5 Days of Platino #1 – El abrazo de la serpiente (2015)

Welcome to the second edition of the 5 Days of Platino. What is this? Well, the Platino Awards are the Oscars of Hispanic American films, with movies from Spain, Portugal and Latin America being considered for the awards of Best Film, Best Director, and practically every other category that already exists in the Oscars, more or less. So, in this blog of mine, I follow the tradition of reviewing the films that are nominated for Best Film in the Oscars (an event called 10 Days of Oscar), but since there are only 5 nominated films for Best Film in this case, we shall have our own 5 Days of Platino. The films nominated for best picture this year are ‘El abrazo de la serpiente’ (2015), ‘El clan’ (2015), ‘El club’ (2015), ‘Ixcanul’ (2015) and ‘Truman’ (2015), and we shall review them all, in lieu of the announcements of the winners of the awards in five days. I do hope you continue reading and comment on these posts and get to know about cinema from other places.

by Jaime Grijalba.

So, apparently Colombian Cinema isn’t something that happens frequently, and this movie is among the few that have come out in the recent years that have had any sort of repercussion beyond their limits, as it played in many festivals around the world, it was awarded an incredible amount of prizes and it even got to what seems to be the vindication for all those involved in what means the absolute success of their films overseas: it was nominated for a Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. Obviously it ultimately lost, but it still made it garner a release in the United States and the interest of the entire world, and now its director, Ciro Guerra, is circling english-spoken projects that will further his career and launch him into Hollywood. The template does sound familiar, after four films he has finally caught the attention of enough people so he can escape the apparently hostile environment of the Film Culture and Making of Colombia, and now can make what he wants to make in peace… or at least make a living with his art, or whatever it is that he can obtain through the machinery of Hollywood. And the template sounds familiar because many Latin American filmmakers have gone up that route, historically from Argentinian filmmakers to Mexican ones, and then suddenly in the mid-2000s a bunch of Brazilian filmmakers started to get into the Hollywood business, a model that is still replicated today, and demonstrates both the strength of Latin American cinema, but at the same time how these filmmakers turn out to be fodder for uninspired films that bury their careers instead of busting them into an even deeper understanding of our continent, as their films aren’t passion projects as much as they are hired jobs that they do because they are deemed fit to do it because of their success. But, alas, I digress.

‘El abrazo de la serpiente’ is, ultimately, a film that looks great and sounds amazing and surely can inspire some exciting words about the way that this movie that seemingly came out of nowhere can dazzle and make the viewers experiment many kinds of visual pleasures, but that can be said about so many films. Filmed in black and white in 35mm, and with some brief splashes of color towards the end of the film (in a disappointing and unsatisfying somewhat uninspired- but that wants to be inspire emotions through its soundtrack- climax), the movie chronicles two voyages separated in time but that follow a similar structure, a shared protagonist and a similar goal: the retrieval of a very powerful medicinal plant that has hallucinogenic properties when is distilled in a liquid form. Two white men, many decades apart, turn to a man with great power and wisdom who knows where to get this plant and knows how to use it. Traversing through the Amazonas river and forest, the film becomes successful as an exploration of a labyrinth that never becomes clear, as it’s the product of nature, but at the same time the over exposure of exotic natural places makes it a somewhat touristic guide for those entitled turists that want to visit these parts and become connected to the nature, but they actually just want to get fucked up on drugs. It follows a pattern that is somewhat hateful, in how it’s the travel of the White Man that is doing a travelogue using the help of the Magical Native and achieves Illumination through the Wisdom and Drugs that they provide.

But the film does have more sequences that make due for the avoidance of such guilty subjects, like two sequences that take place in the same religious mission, but years apart, one that deals with the entitlement of the education of the religion, and the other that talks about the blindness that comes along with the following of certain precepts and loyalty that comes through the belief of the same religion. They are scenes that thread on known ground, with figures, characters and even dialogue that could be repetitive or expected, but it all pays off only due to the way in which they are shot. Ciro Guerra has surely established himself, more than anything else, as a wonderful director that can conjure a lot of powerful imagery that becomes layered and it represents faithfully what he is trying to say without a second look at it. I honestly can’t wait for his next film and I hope that he finds a way to create original work that’ll go beyond the clichés of the Latin American film, that he exploits here but ultimately makes them nothing more than the exploitable surface level that we see again and again in festivals that don’t actually care about the actual state of Latin American cinema. I guess that if we don’t see a couple of jungles, it isn’t *actually* Latin American cinema, is it? We’re beyond that conception and I’ll try to establish with these reviews what we can hope for the future.



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