Deborah Ross

The lost world

New World and Old size each other up in this Oscar-nominated Colombian film that is compelling for every minute of its two, colossally sad hours

Every now and then, with great infrequency (alas), a film comes along that is like no other and completely knocks you for six, and that is Embrace of the Serpent. The first Colombian film to be nominated for an Oscar — it lost to Son of Saul, should you set any store by such things — it was filmed in the Colombian section of the Amazon basin, with a script developed in consultation with native tribes, and tells the story of a shaman’s encounters with two white scientist explorers, which unfold in different time periods.

So far, so National Geographic; a world disappeared by colonialism and all that (sorry; our bad). But this is so powerfully imagined and realised, and so engrossing, and so painful, that the experience becomes one of bearing witness, cinematically, and if you’re not up to that? There is always Jennifer Aniston in Mother’s Day, which also opens this week, and sees Ms Aniston play ‘a stressed-out single mom who learns her ex-husband is marrying a younger woman’. Your call.

It is written and directed by Ciro Guerra, a Colombian whose starting point was the real-life diary of Theodor Koch-Grünberg, the German ethnologist who first documented the Amazon in the early 1900s. The film opens during this time, with Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres, as a young man) who, we quickly understand, is the last of his tribe, the rest having been wiped out by the rubber barons. He lives remotely in isolation and is squatting watchfully at the river’s edge, in all his gorgeous physicality — buttock cheeks hard enough to crack nuts with, I swear; even Brazils — when a canoe approaches carrying Theo (Jan Bijvoet) and his travelling companion, Manduca (Yauenku Migue), who was enslaved to the barons until Theo bought his freedom.

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