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Review — Embrace of The Serpent ★★★★★

Nasri Atallah By Nasri Atallah Published on July 25, 2016

If you're anything like me, you've been actively avoiding the multiplexes for the past couple of years. Besides the odd blockbuster spectacle that's worth the outing (think along the lines of Mad Max) it has been a deeply uninteresting mix of comic book adaptations, Oscar bait and Kevin Hart movies. A lot of us now get our narrative kicks mainly on the small screen, in the form of dark brooding shows with interesting arcs. All of this means that when you do end up going to a cinema, you're looking for something a bit different. And that's exactly what I was looking for when I spotted Embrace of the Serpent playing at the Prince Charles. 

Marc Kermode had given it a glowing review, as had some friends whose judgement I trust blindly. But nothing could have prepared me for the transformational quality of this film. This is not hyperbole, this film will change how you look at the world the second you walk back out into the street. 

It is a fitting feeling to illicit, given that the film's main focus is a psychedelic and dreamlike journey through the Amazon with shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres). The journey is actually composed of two journeys decades apart, but that it almost irrelevant. The passage of time, the nature of memory, the merits of exploration, the destruction of our ecosystem, the ravages of colonialism, the instrumentalization of religion, all these themes are explored in such a subtle and evocative way that the conclusions (if there are any) creep under your skin rather than scream at you from the screen. 

Oh, and if you're concerned — as I was heading into this — about themes like the "the noble savages" and "the white man's burden", you've got nothing to be worried about. I'm not sure how, but the film appears to skirt past those harmful cliches effortlessly leaving us with a story that is both incredibly specific and, for want of a better word, transcendental. 

And I recommend reading this far more astutely observed and penned review in The Guardian if you want to learn more about the film. 

British-Lebanese author and media entrepreneur. Author of Our Man in Beirut (2012) and currently working on a crime novel at the acclaimed Faber Academy. My writing has appeared in The ... Show More