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Embrace of the Serpent 

Wednesday, Feb 24 2016
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One of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, Ciro Guerra's lovely and oft-harrowing Embrace of the Serpent winds its way through an Amazonian rainforest ravaged by early-20th-century colonialism. Shot in glorious black-and-white, the movie intercuts between two timelines. Young shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), who has an eminently reasonable hatred of white men for the havoc they've wrought on his land in the form of rubber barons and Christian missionaries, reluctantly aids Theo (Jan Bijvoet), a German explorer who falls ill while searching for a legendary psychedelic plant called the yakruna. Forty years later, old Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) assists German botanist Evan (Brionne Davis), a student of Theo's writing who hopes Karamakate can lead him to the yakruna. Episodic in a way common to journey-up-the-river movies, with the added texture of revisiting locations decades later, particularly powerful in a return to already-unpleasant mission that has since devolved into pure horror. A hallucinogenic McGuffin sets up certain expectations, and although it takes a while to get to the fireworks factory, the payoff is brief but worth it, with some aerial shots directly evoking 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the journey is, of course, more important than the destination, and both of Embrace of the Serpent's trips are worth taking.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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