Archive for the ‘Embrace of the Serpent (2015)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures

Release Date: June 21, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 125 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Spanish, Huitoto, Latin, Okaina, Portuguese, Tikuna, Wanano, and German DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 2.0 Multi-language LPCM (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 27.00 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition.

Colombian One Sheet

This is the original Columbian one sheet that was used to promote the film.

“…The explorers have told their story. The natives haven’t. This is it…” -Ciro Guerra (Press Book)

Embrace of the Serpent is an unusual film that often feels like a fever dream. The stunning 35mm monochrome photography adds to this effect as we follow Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, and the two scientists who build a friendship with him over the course of 40 years. The story was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred Yakruna plant. All of this takes place during two different periods of time as if everything were happening at once.

“There’s an idea in many of the texts that explore the indigenous world that speaks of a different concept of time. Time to them is not a line, as we see it in the West, but a series of multiple universes happening simultaneously. It is a concept that has been referred to as ‘time without time’ or ‘space without space.’

I thought it connected with the stories of the explorers, who wrote about how one of them came to the Amazon following the footsteps of another explorer before him, and when he would encounter the same indigenous tribe, he would find that the previous explorer had been turned into myth. To the natives, it was always the same man, the same spirit, visiting them over and over again. This idea of a single life, a single experience, lived through the bodies of several men, was fascinating to me, and I thought it would make a great starting point for the script. It gave us a perspective of the indigenous way of thinking, but also connected with the viewer who could understand these men who come from our world, and through them, we could slowly begin to see the vision of the world of Karamakate.” -Ciro Guerra (Press Book)

This Amazonian concept informs the film’s structure at nearly every level. The screenplay was mostly written by Ciro Guerra during the course of four years, with cowriter Jacques Toulemonde coming on board for the final drafts, helping to shape a non-western tale for audiences used to western storytelling. It’s worth noting that, of the very few films that have been shot in the Amazon, almost all of them are told from the explorer’s point of view, and Amazon natives are often seen as primitive savages. This certainly isn’t the case here, and this fact makes all the difference in the world.

The Amazon has never before been quite this mystical. There are moments when one almost feels as if they are falling under some sort of spell (or perhaps becoming intoxicated by the psychedelic properties of the Yakruna). This is the film’s greatest strength, but one has to wonder if it isn’t also its largest weakness. The film never really touches ground. We are stimulated visually and taken across the threshold of what might as well be another world.

Many of the best films are powerful in their ability to take the audience to places that they have never been before, but is it possible for the subject matter to be too far removed from the viewer’s experience? The answer to this question probably depends on the sensibilities of each individual viewer.

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with a slightly altered version of the film’s American One Sheet artwork. Oscilloscope Pictures should be admired for not attempting to utilize different artwork for the film’s Blu-ray cover. (One Sheet artwork is nearly always superior to home video artwork, which usually ranges from cheesy to completely inept.)

The menu utilizes footage from the film’s dreamy cinematography with accompaniment from the score. The result is an attractive menu that is quite easy to accommodate.

Photo by Andres Barrientos - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andres Barrientos. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

David Gallego’s monochrome cinematography is faithfully rendered in this beautiful image transfer that showcases impressive detail and clarity. Contrast is wonderfully on point while blacks are deep without crushing. The layer of fine grain adds a cinematic texture to the proceedings. This is yet another wonderful example of how fabulous black and white translates on Blu-ray.

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories - 3

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Sound Quality:

 4 of 5 Stars

 Oscilloscope’s lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA transfer is an extremely modest mix, but one cannot say that it doesn’t faithfully translate the film’s original theatrical sound elements to Blu-ray. The track is a quiet affair with a quiet ambience that works well for the film. One can hear the Amazon’s creepy insect life in the background, and other (less identifiable) jungle life also make their presence known. This never interferes with the film’s dialogue, which is presumably quite clear. (Although, one cannot say this with complete certainty. This reviewer isn’t a native speaker of any of this film’s identifiable languages.) Sound effect are well mixed and come to vivid life at the appropriate moments as well. Music seems to be given room enough to breath in the mix, and this all adds up to a perfectly fine mix (even if some might complain that it doesn’t give their sound systems much of a workout).

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories - 2

This is a production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Making Embrace of the Serpent – (1080p) – (23:45)

While this short book behind the scenes is hardly comprehensive and somewhat more difficult to digest, viewers are given a glimpse behind the scenes of a film that seems to have an unusual production history. The interviews with the cast and crew provide some interesting nuggets of information, but it is the location footage that really makes this program worth watching.

Adventure, Culture, History, Magic: In-Depth Behind the Scenes – (1080P) – (09:36)

We are also given four EPK promos that are labeled as being “In-Depth Behind the Scenes” featurettes. The truth is that there is absolutely no depth to these short clips at all. However, they are worth watching because the footage gives viewers a chance to see some “behind the scenes” footage (even if the interview narration isn’t particularly informative). As a matter of fact, some of this footage is in color, which adds to the novelty of these promos. A play all function is also included.

Lessons from the Amazon: New Interview with Brionne Davis – (1080P) – (15:03)

This interview with Brionne Davis is much more than the usual EPK promotional nonsense one usually expects to be included as a supplement. Not only does Davis discuss the preparatory chores that informed his performance and his experience shooting the film on location, his memories provide insights to the film as a whole. One’s appreciation for the film is enhanced after watching this fifteen minute interview, and most viewers should find that it gives them a new lens in which to view the film a second time. However, it must be said that the interview isn’t likely to convert those who didn’t enjoy the film in the first place.

Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (02:09)

The theatrical trailer is reasonably effective in its ability to get across the mood and tone of the film, and it is nice to see it included here.

American One Sheet.jpg

Final Words:

Colonialism takes a gut punch in Guerra’s mystical excursion into the vast reaches of the Amazon rainforest. This is required viewing for anyone looking for a truly unique cinematic experience, but it isn’t for everyone. Oscilloscope’s Blu-ray release offers a solid transfer and is probably the best way to see the film in one’s own home.

Review by: Devon Powell