Explore the Amazon Rainforest of 1909
By Skip Sheffield
Imagine yourself in the deepest, darkest part of the Amazon rainforest in what is now Colombia, way back in 1909, when the area was uncharted and unexplored.
That’s what Austrian scientist and explorer Theodor Koch-Grunberg and his colleague Richard Evans Schultes experienced more than 100 years ago. Their perilous expedition is memorialized in “Embrace of the Serpent,” which was Colombia’s official entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. The film won eight Macondo Awards, which is Colombia’s equivalent of the Oscar.
“Embrace of the Serpent” is the first film shot in the Amazonian rainforest in more than 30 years. Director Ciro Guerra chose to shoot in radiant black-and-white, which lends a vintage look to the movie. The script is based on the diaries of Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who is called Theo and is played by Jan Bijvoet.
Theo is very weak and near death as the movie begins. His only hope is to find the sacred and extremely rare healing plant Called Yakruna by the natives. Theo begs Karamakate, the last surviving tribal shaman, to take him to the remote mountain where the last Yakruna grows.
Karamakate is played by Nilbo Torres as the young native who befriends Theo and Antonio Bolivar as an old man.
It was loyal Karamakate who preserved Theo’s diaries and saw to it they got back to Austria, where they could be published.
There is an undercurrent message of the devastating effects of European colonial rule over the native inhabitants and their unspoiled paradise. This is made even more poignant today, as South American rainforests are despoiled and destroyed every day in the name of development and profit. What Ciro Guerra has created is an artistic masterpiece with a heartbreaking, heartfelt ecological message.