Embrace of the Serpent | Chicago Reader

Embrace of the Serpent

This stunning historical drama, shot mainly in black and white across the Amazon region of Colombia, focuses on a shaman who’s approached at different points by white men seeking medicinal substances; the intertwined stories deepen into an elegy for his lost way of life. As a fiercely powerful young man (Nilbio Torres) in 1909, Karamakate agrees to help a German ethnographer (based on the real-life figure Theodor Koch-Grünberg) locate a plant that will save his life; three decades later, the aging Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) is tracked down by an American botanist (based on another real person, Richard Evans Schultes) who wants to see the plant for himself. Writer-director Ciro Guerra drew on diary accounts by the two explorers, yet his movie, with its haunting river journeys and hair-raising episodes of Western colonists running amok, plays like an environmentalist’s remake of Apocalypse Now. Subtitled.



  • Ciro Guerra


  • Jan Bijvoet
  • Brionne Davis
  • Nilbio Torres
  • Miguel Ramos
  • Nicolás Cancino
  • Luigi Sciamanna
  • Antonio Bolivar


  • Cristina Gallego

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