The Embrace of the Serpent

The film tells the journey of the shaman Karamakate and contrasts perspectives of what ‘Nature’ is and all beings that co-exist in it, with a manifolded critique of the Nation-state, Religion and Capitalism. It takes place in the Colombian Amazon and was made in collaboration with Cubeos, Wananos, Huitotos, Ocainas, Tikunas. Featuring nine languages, the script was written in Spanish and was translated by the actors and partially rewritten in the process. The director Ciro Mendes asked a Payé ‘how to best do the shooting without disrespecting the Amazon, telling the perspective of the peoples that take care of it, and the healer spent the night alone in the jungle carefully explaining the project to the forest.’ This in turn resulted in a process without major complications where "every time it started to rain only after we finished shooting."

Dir. Ciro Mendes: ‘The Embrace of Serpent’ is a reverse angle to films like Herzog’s Aguirre. As a films lover, one grows admiring them, but when you start to study the history of the Amazon, you realize that people like Fitzcarraldo were one of the greatest mass murderers of the region. He drew the borders between Peru and Brazil with blood. The movie paints him like a bucolic dreamer. They are colonialist films, in which the story is told only from one side. In the movies of Herzog, the indigenous people are in the background. They are put there, they never have a name, they never have more than two lines of dialogue, they are never characters: they are never people.’

'The film operates on a metaphysical level alongside its rich physical representations, so that intangible things like memory, spirituality, dreams and collective culture feel as alive as the film’s flesh-and-blood characters. And in offering up this level of interpretation, it admonishes Western culture for its greed, materialism and narrow-mindedness. The film also offers up a dichotomy of spirituality and religion, opposing the fake and egomaniacal rituals of Western religion to the more harmonious spirituality of Karamakate, which draws on his surroundings.' Little White Lies Magazine.

'No exotic fetishism. No ‘wild savage’ hollywood obscenity. But understanding and respect for the wisdom we so dearly lack. It is not a matter of folklore or ancient cultures but of a wisdom that has answers to many of the questions that people today have: from how to achieve balance with nature, making the best use of its resources without ravaging them, and looking for harmony not only between man and nature, but between all the different ways of being human that exist. Reaching this equilibrium is a way to achieve happiness, a type of happiness that the current political and social systems are not capable of offering. We saw how everything has knowledge, from the rock to the tree, the insect or the wind, and we learned to find happiness in that. It’s a change in perspective.

Foto of Nilbio Torres, a Cubeo actor from the indigenous community of Tapurucuara as the young Shaman. "De su abuelo aprendió los cuentos de los orígenes: los cubeos vienen de la anaconda, del güio, que había llegado desde el cielo y había tenido crías; como la culebra y sus pichones se habían convertido en los ríos y los caños, cada tribu, ligada a un pichón, tenía un lugar propio para pescar." 2462016