Embrace of the Serpent

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Embrace of the Serpent
Embrace of the Serpent poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed by Ciro Guerra
Produced by Cristina Gallego
Written by Ciro Guerra
Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Based on Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes (diaries)
  • Jan Bijvoet
  • Nilbio Torres
  • Antonio Bolívar
Music by Nascuy Linares
Cinematography David Gallego
Edited by Etienne Boussac
  • Buffalo Films
  • Buffalo Producciones
  • Caracol Televisión
  • Ciudad Lunar Producciones
  • Dago García Producciones
  • MC Producciones
  • Nortesur Producciones
Distributed by Diaphana Films
Release date
  • 15 May 2015 (2015-05-15) (Cannes)
  • 21 May 2015 (2015-05-21) (Colombia)
Running time
125 minutes
Country Colombia
Language Cubeo
Budget $1.4 million[1]
Box office $3.4 million[2]

Embrace of the Serpent (Spanish: El abrazo de la serpiente) is a 2015 internationally co-produced adventure drama film directed by Ciro Guerra and written by Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal. It was shot in black-and-white. The film won the Art Cinema Award in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.[3][4] It won Best Picture at the 2017 Riviera International Film Festival, and it also won the Best Ibero-American Film at the 3rd Platino Awards and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards.[5]

The film was inspired by the travel diaries of Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, and dedicated to lost Amazonian cultures.


The film tells two stories thirty years apart, both featuring Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his tribe. He travels with two scientists, firstly with German Theo von Martius in 1909 and American named Evan in 1940, to look for the rare yakruna, a (fictional) sacred plant.[6]

Theo, an ethnographer from Tübingen who has already resided in the Amazon for several years, is very sick and is travelling by canoe with his field notes and a westernised local he saved from enslavement on a rubber plantation named Manduca. Karamakate prolongs his life, blasting white powder called "the sun's semen" (possibly a hallucinogenic made from virola[7]) up his nose, but is reluctant to become involved with a westerner and refuses his money. Theo is searching for yakruna as the only cure for his disease and the three set off in the canoe to search for it.

Many years later an American botanist, Evan (Brionne Davis), paddles up to a much older Karamakate (Antonio Bolívar) who has apparently forgotten the customs of his own people. Evan says he is hoping to complete Theo's quest and Karamakate does assist, again reluctantly, saying his knowledge is spent. Evan has a book of Theo's final trek, which his aide sent back to Europe, as he did not survive the jungle. The book includes an image of Karamakate, which he refers to as his chullachaqui, a native term for hollow spirit. Karamakate agrees to help him only when Evan describes himself as someone who has devoted himself to plants, although Evan's real purpose is actually to secure disease-free rubber trees, since the United States's supplies of rubber from South East Asia had dwindled due to the Japanese wartime advance.

Both expeditions feature a Spanish Catholic Mission by the side of an Amazon tributary, run in 1909 by a sadistic, lone Spanish priest who beats orphan boys for any "pagan" behaviour, and in 1940 by a delusional Brazilian figure who believes he is the Messiah. He only trusts the visitors when he believes they are the Biblical Magi, but Karamakate wins his respect when he heals his wife. By now the children of 1909 have grown into disturbed and violent acolytes.

In 1909, we are left with Theo, sick and having fled the Mission, arriving at a frontier post just about to be invaded by Colombian soldiers during the Amazon rubber boom, where the sacred yakruna is being abused by drunken men, and cultivated, against local traditions. Karamakate is furious and destroys it. In 1940, Karamakate does show Evan the origin of the plant in striking denuded dome shaped mountains (Cerros de Mavecure), allegedly the home of yakruna. He reveals one yakruna flower that is on the last plant – he has destroyed all the others – and prepares it for Evan. The preparation being hallucinogenic, aids Evan in undergoing a superconscious experience. While most of the film is in black-and-white, a part of this experience is shown in colour to signify its intensity. The film ends with a transformed Evan remaining enamoured by a group of butterflies.


  • Nilbio Torres as Young Karamakate
  • Antonio Bolívar as Old Karamakate
  • Jan Bijvoet as Theo
  • Brionne Davis as Evan
  • Luigi Sciamanna as Gaspar
  • Yauenkü Migue as Manduca
  • Nicolás Cancino as Anizetto


Cerro Mono and Cerro Pajarito, in the Mavicure Hills, which feature in the film.


Embrace of the Serpent was filmed in the Amazonía region of Colombia. Seven weeks were spent in the Department of Vaupés, and one week in the Department of Guainía, filming.[8] Location details include:


  • Ciro Guerra – director, screenwriter
  • Jacques Toulemonde – screenwriter
  • Cristina Gallego – producer
  • David Gallego – cinematographer
  • Carlos E. García; Sound Designer, re-recording mixer, additional music composer
  • Angélica Perea  – production designer
  • Catherine Rodriguez – costume designer
  • Andrés Barrientos – acting coach
  • Etienne Boussac  – editor
  • Nascuy Linares – music composer


The soundtrack album of the movie was released by Plaza Major Company on 22 January 2016 and contains 9 songs composed by Nascuy Linares.[9] The film also features The Creation by Joseph Haydn.

Track listing[edit]

1."Embrace of the Serpent (Theme)"1:59
2."Trance (Trance Aereo)"1:59
3."Dantesque Celebration (Fiesta Dantesca)"2:29
4."Acoutic River (Tema Brújula)"3:17
5."Dudamel: Let the Children Play (End)"1:41
6."Dudamel: Let the Children Play (Isla y Páramo)"1:44
7."Dudamel: Let the Children Play – Sarabande (Based on a Theme by George Frideric Handel)"2:02
8."Dudamel: Let the Children Play (Arpegios)"0:50
9."Dudamel: Let the Children Play (Minor)"1:44


Critical response[edit]

The film has received universal acclaim from critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 98% approval rating, based on 118 reviews, with an average score of 8.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "As rich visually as it is thematically, Embrace of the Serpent offers a feast of the senses for film fans seeking a dose of bracing originality". On Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating, the film has a score of 82 out of 100 based on 31 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

Indiewire's Jessica Kiang awarded the film an A rating, calling it "a soulful, strange and stunning discovery". She also described the character of Karamakate as "an immaculate portrait of the unfathomable loneliness and crushing survivor's guilt that comes with being the last of one's kind".[10] Jordan Mintzer of The Hollywood Reporter described the film as "a visually mesmerizing exploration of man, nature and the destructive powers of colonialism" and compared it to Miguel Gomes' Tabu (2012). He also praised the black-and-white cinematography and the sound design which he said "makes the jungle truly come alive".[11] Justin Chang of Variety gave a positive review of the film. He wrote: "At once blistering and poetic, not just an ethnographic study but also a striking act of cinematic witness...". About the parallel narrative he wrote it "delivers a fairly comprehensive critique of the destruction of indigenous cultures at the hands of white invaders".[12] Video essayist Kogonada voted for the film on Sight & Sound magazine's poll for best film of 2015, stating that "Embrace of the Serpent is a mesmerizing feat of cinema. Guerra had me at frame one."[13]


The film was screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival[14][15] where it won the Art Cinema Award.[3] The film won the Golden Apricot at the 2015 Yerevan International Film Festival, Armenia, for Best Feature Film; the Special Jury Award at the Odessa Film Festival, and the Spondylus Trophy at the Lima Film Festival.

The Governor of the Guainía Department, decorated Ciro Guerra with the Order of the Inírida Flower for "exalting the respect and value of the indigenous populations, likewise giving the Department recognition for tourism and culture".[16]

The film was announced as Colombia's submission for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film,[17] and was selected among the final five contenders, being the first Colombian film to be nominated for the award.

Award / Film Festival Category Result
Academy Awards[18] Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Australian Film Critics Association[19] Best International Film (Foreign Language) Nominated
Cannes Film Festival[20] Art Cinema Award Won
Hamptons International Film Festival[21] Golden Starfish for Narrative Feature − Honorable Mention Won
Independent Spirit Awards[22] Best International Film Nominated
India International Film Festival[23] Golden Peacock Award Won
Lima Film Festival[24] Best Fiction Featured Film Won
Mar del Plata International Film Festival[25] Golden Ástor Won
Munich Film Festival Best International Film Nominated
Odessa International Film Festival[26] International Competition Program - Special Jury Mention Won
Pacific Meridian International Film Festival Special Jury Award Won
Rotterdam International Film Festival Dioraphte Award Won
San Sebastián International Film Festival Best Latin-American Film Nominated
Sundance Film Festival[27] Alfred P. Sloan Prize Won
Yerevan International Film Festival[28] Golden Apricot Award Won
Riviera International Film Festival[29] Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture Won
Jury Prize for Best Director Nominated

Top ten lists[edit]

Mark Kermode from The Guardian included Embrace of the Serpent in its top ten list of best films of 2016.[30] Embrace of the Serpent is ranked 2nd in Rotten Tomatoes' Best-Reviewed Foreign Language Movies 2016,[31] and 23th in the Top 100 Movies of 2016 list.[32] It also was named the 12th best film of 2016 by Esquire.[33] Sight & Sound ranked it 21st with seven votes.[34]

Some other top ten lists in which Embrace of the Serpent was listed are:[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Este es el momento del cine colombiano': Ciro Guerra". El Tiempo (in Spanish). Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  2. ^ "Embrace of the Serpent (2016)". Box Office Mojo. 
  3. ^ a b Rebecca Ford (22 May 2015). "Cannes: 'Embrace of the Serpent' Tops Directors' Fortnight Awards". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Quinzaine des Réalisateurs [@Quinzaine] (22 May 2015). "Mention to "The Exquisite Corpus de/by Peter Tscherkassky #quinzaine2015" (Tweet). Retrieved 22 May 2015 – via Twitter. 
  5. ^ Ford, Rebecca (14 January 2016). "Oscar Nominations: The Complete List". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 14 January 2016. 
  6. ^ Hoffman, Jordan (17 February 2016). "Embrace of the Serpent review – dreamlike exploration of the Amazon's imperialist pollution". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2016. 
  7. ^ p.423 Pratt, Christina An Encyclopedia of Shamanism Volume 2 The Rosen Publishing Group, 1 June 2007
  8. ^ El Pais S.A. (14 January 2015). "'El abrazo de la serpiente' en la voz de Ciro Guerra". Retrieved 24 February 2016. 
  9. ^ "'Embrace of the Serpent' Soundtrack Announced". Film Music Reporter. 12 January 2016. 
  10. ^ Jessica Kiang (17 May 2015). "Cannes Review: 'Embrace Of The Serpent' Is A Soulful, Strange And Stunning Discovery". Indiewire. 
  11. ^ Jordan Mintzer. "'Embrace of the Serpent' ('El abrazo de la serpiente'): Cannes Review". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  12. ^ Justin Chang. "Film Review: 'Embrace of the Serpent'". Variety. 
  13. ^ ":: kogonada | The best films of 2015". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  14. ^ "The Directors' Fortnight 2015 selection!". Quinzaine des Réalisateurs. Archived from the original on 23 April 2015. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  15. ^ Justin Chang (21 April 2015). "Cannes: Directors' Fortnight Unveils 2015 Lineup". Variety. Retrieved 21 April 2015. 
  16. ^ "Sitio web del Departamento de Guainía". guainia.gov.co. Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  17. ^ Mango, Agustin (17 September 2015). "Oscars: Colombia Selects 'Embrace of the Serpent' for Foreign-Language Category". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Oscar Nominations: The Complete List". 14 January 2016. 
  19. ^ "The 2017 AFCA Awards". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2018. 
  20. ^ "2015 Awards". Austin Film Critics Association. 30 December 2015. 
  21. ^ "HIFF 2015: Awards". Hamptons International Film Festival. 12 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "'Carol,' 'Spotlight,' 'Beasts of No Nation' Lead Spirit Awards Nominations". Film Independent. 24 November 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2015. 
  23. ^ "BEST FILM" (PDF). International Film Festival of India, GO. 2015. 
  24. ^ "El Festival de Cine de Lima premió a "El abrazo de la serpiente" y homenajeó a Herzog". EFE (in Spanish). Agencia EFE, S.A. 16 August 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2016. 
  25. ^ "Y los ganadores son..." Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar de la Plata. 2015. 
  26. ^ "Awards Winners 2015". Odessa International Film Festival. 2015. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. 
  27. ^ "Sundance: The Birth of a Nation Sweeps Top Prizes". Variety. Retrieved 1 February 2016. 
  28. ^ "Awards and Juries". YEREVAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. 2015. 
  29. ^ "Riviera International Film Festival". Vogue Italia. Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  30. ^ Kermode, Mark (4 December 2016). "Mark Kermode: best films of 2016". The Guardian. 
  31. ^ "Best-Reviewed Foreign Language Movies 2016". Rotten Tomatoes. 
  32. ^ "Top 100 Movies of 2016". Rotten Tomatoes. 
  33. ^ Schager, Nick (30 November 2016). "The 25 Best Movies of 2016 (So Far)". Esquire. 
  34. ^ "The best films of 2016". British Film Institute. 2 December 2016. 
  35. ^ Dietz, Jason (5 December 2016). "Best of 2016: Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. 

External links[edit]