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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente) (2015)

Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente) (2015)

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Released 11-Jan-2017

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-x 4 for other Palace Films releases
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2015
Running Time 119:04
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Ciro Guerra

Madman Entertainment
Starring Nilbio Torres
Jan Bijvoet
Yauenku Migue
Antonio Bolivar
Brionne Davis

Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Nascuy Linares

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Black and white photos during the end credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Embrace of the Serpent (El Abrazo de la Serpiente) is two interconnected stories of journeys in the Amazon. In 1909 German scientist and explorer Theodor von Martius (Jan Bijvoet), travelling with his freed slave native companion Manduca (Yauenku Migue) is very ill. They seek out the healer and shaman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) who believes that he is the last member of his Cohiuano tribe. He declines to help, stating that only the rare yakruna plant can help Martius. However when Martius reveals that he has spent time with other Cohiuano people near to the Colombian border where the yakruna grows, Karamakate joins Martius and Manduca on a journey up river in search of both the Cohiuano and the yakruna plant.

     We learn that Martius died in the Amazon and Manduca had sent his journals and drawings back to Germany. In the early 1940s another German scientist, Evan Schultes (Brionne Davis), using Martius’ journals as a guide, comes to the Amazon looking for the yakruna plant and rubber for the German war effort. In the jungle he seeks out the elderly Karamakate (now played by Antonio Bolivar) for help in retracing the 1909 journey. Karamakate is vague; in his own mind he has become a “chullachaqui”, a shadow man, or indeed a shell of a man without memories of the past or his environment, and at first he is surprised that Evan can even see him. But he agrees to join Evan to seek both the yakruna plant and to revive his memories. For both the journey becomes one of self-discovery, in essence the search for dreams and whatever is in each’s soul.

     Embrace of the Serpent interconnects these two timeframes and as Karamakate and Evan repeat the earlier journey up river we discover what happened to Martius. There are scenes of the destruction of the forest and the indigenous tribes by the Rubber Barons and the missionaries, leading to the extinction of many native cultures and way of life. In 1909 Manduca has whip marks on his back from his time as a slave in the rubber plantations and he reacts violently when confronted with his past. The group also come to a mission where the priests have rescued the orphaned children of Indians killed by the Rubber Barons or in fighting with Colombians, yet there is little mercy there as the children are forbidden from speaking in their native tongues and are whipped for disobedience. When Evan and Karamakate arrive decades later a cult leader believing himself to be the Messiah has taken over the mission and reconstructed an Eden where whippings, madness and death reign; the Indians have adopted the worst of both white and native culture. And, when at the end of both journeys the travellers find what they are seeking, the result is not what they expect.

     Embrace of the Serpent is a beautiful film about the destruction of the jungle, lost cultures, dreams and journeys of self-discovery. The film is written and directed by Colombian Ciro Guerra and is based on the journals of two real 20th century explorers, Theodor Koch-Grunberg and Richard Evan Schultes, journals which contain some of the only written records of native customs and cultures which are now extinct. Given that he is shooting on location in one of the greenest places on Earth, Guerra made the rather radical decision to shoot in black and white. However cinematographer David Gallego used film stock and the result is a gorgeous looking film with a depth of focus that is stunning. Whether showing the jungle undergrowth with mottled light shafts, the trees receding into the distance or the wide river with clouds overhead, the blacks and greys look like newsreel footage with minor grain, although with pristine and firm detail. There is also one effective use of colour to depict a hallucinatory experience near the end of the film.

     I recently reviewed A War, a Danish film which was nominated for Best Foreign Language film at the 2016 Oscars. Embrace of the Serpent was also nominated in the same category, the first film from Colombia ever so nominated, although both lost out to Son of Saul from Hungary. Embrace of the Serpent is a mystical experience; it is a beautifully made film with stunning imagery that is never less than enthralling as the two stories intersect seamlessly, each providing information which fills out the others’ journey into the heart of darkness.

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Transfer Quality


     Embrace of the Serpent is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

     This is a stunning looking black and white print. Shot on film on location in the Amazon jungle with natural light, some scenes have a softish mottled look with layers of trees and branches and filtered light while others contain memorable images with strong detail. Blacks, greys and shadow detail are deep and rich. I noticed no marks or artefacts.

    The layer change at 63:53 created a slight pause just after a scene change.

    There are burnt in English subtitles for the diverse languages spoken.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The audio is nominally a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps or a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track at 224 Kbps, although numerous native languages, some German, Spanish and even a bit of English also occur.

     All dialogue sounded clear, although of course very little was understandable. The rears were constantly in use for the ambient sounds of the jungle such as insects, birds, running water, rain and the music. The subwoofer only came to life to give added boom to the rapids, which was all that was required. The score by Nascuy Linares used native tunes to enhance the atmosphere and add to the impact of the visuals, especially in scenes on the river. The Creation by Haydn was also integrated into the story to good effect.

     Lip synchronisation seemed fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer (2:11)

More from Palace Films

    Trailers for Rams (2:09), Leviathan (1:50), The Wait (1:27) and Far from Men (1:51).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region A Blu-ray of Embrace of the Serpent includes as extras a making of (23:45), a behind the scenes (9:36), an interview with actor Brionne Davis (15:03) as well as the trailer. I have been unable to find any review or details of the Region 1 DVD; it may not include these extras but if it did it would be the preferred choice. The Region UK DVD is PAL and as far as I can tell it is the same as our all region version.


     Embrace of the Serpent is a stunning film. Beautifully shot in black and white, without preaching it is a film about the impact of civilization upon the customs and cultures of the tribes of the Amazon, much of which has been lost forever. It is also a look into the dark heart of man, a search for identity and self, a majestic, soulful film with images that take hold and never let go, even after the film reaches its climax.

     The video is beautiful, the audio fine. A trailer and trailers for other films are sadly the only extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE