The theme of the First World's raping of the Third is strong throughout Embrace of the Serpent but director Cira Guerra ensures that it doesn't bog down what is a beautiful, if sometimes terrifying, adventure story.
nbsp;Karamatake (Torres), an Amazonian shaman and the last of his tribe, is reluctant to help the dying explorer Theo (Bijvoet) and his guide Manduca (Yauenku Migue) find the yakruna, a sacred healing plant that will save Theo's life. However, he agrees to take them up river and the three encounter bizarre happenings the further they go. Running parallel to this, years later an elderly Karamatake (Bolivar) is approached by another white man, Evan (Davis), using Theo's diaries and notes to navigate the jungle, looking for the same plant…
s both stories – Theo's expedition in 1909, Evan's in the late thirties - work their way toward their respective climaxes (Guerra unhurried to get there yet fills his story with enough mystery and danger so ensure pacing never lags), Embrace of the Serpent becomes to resemble a distant relative of Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Vietnam-set adaptation. The further they travel up river the stranger events become; Evan and Karamatake stumble across a quasi-Christian religious compound with a Christ figure losing his grip on reality and torturing his subjects á la Kurtz, while Theo encounters a one-armed man, a slave to the hated rubber barons, begging him to kill him.
ut Guerra doesn't forget the reason we're all here – how the white man has infected paradise. At one point Theo demands the friendly chief of a tribe to return his stolen compass, explaining to Manduca that by adopting the ways of the white man the knowledge and culture the tribe have learned and protected over thousands of years will be lost. Later, the older Karamatake tells Evan he can't remember what the symbols he paints on a rock mean or where the elusive plant can be found. When they discover a missionary full of children, Karamatake urges the young ones not to forget who they are or where they came from. There's also a comment on materialism with the half-naked Karamatake, whose only possession is the necklace around his neck, telling Evan, "Your things will only lead you to madness and death," when his 'stuff' (including a gramophone) threaten to sink their small canoe.
ne would be forgiven for thinking that shooting the in black and white may dull the wonderful colours of the Amazon jungle but slowly the realisation dawns that the decision emphasises the melancholy for a lost culture that is at the heart of its protagonist, Karamatake.