A German explorer Theodore von Martius (Jan Bijvoet) is deathly ill and his guide Manduca (Yauenku Migue) begs an Amazonian Shaman, Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), to help him. They need a shot of yakruna, a sacred herb to cure what ails Theo and off they go in their canoe, before a modern parallel story appears. This time it’s an American, Evan (Brionne Davis) who turns up some 30 years later, armed with Theo’s books, also looking for the sacred herb, and they pass over the same territory. This time Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar)is a shell of himself and he needs to find his memories to rediscover his soul.
It’s a great way to set up some amazingly bizarre storytelling. It is underpinned by the personal journey of Karamakate, as opposed to the white explorers, and it becomes an ‘Apocalypse Now‘ on the Amazon. We’re shown how the rubber tree helped destroy the indigenous populations and how religion was finishing what the rubber barons started. The stories are based on the actual diaries of early travellers and have a tragically true ring to them.
It is beautifully shot in black and white on 35mm film, which suits the mood and the setting of time: 1909 and just before WWII. Director, Ciro Guerra, tells both tales in tandem and it’s excellent story telling, carried by the high level acting of Torres and Bolivar. The serpent metaphor isn’t overdone, but as we see a wide shot of the winding Amazon, we’re reminded who the real star of this class film is.
Con’s Score: 4 snake bites