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CINEMATOGRAPHY THEORY III

Final Essay
By: Carlos Mario Mahecha Castañeda

THE EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT AND ITS BROKEN TALE

A lot has been said about the periferic cinema of the countries in development.
Theories perhaps made for ourselves and hopefully some occasional reader foreign
to that particular category of the thirld world cinema. But there is indeed an important
handful of texts and theory regarding at least, the new movements of cinema in
latinamerica. Third Cinema Manifesto, Aesthetic of Violence, Cannibal Manifesto are
some of the most important articles holding the problem of perspective and point of
view of the authors in latinamerica against the hegemonic dominant view of the huge
commercial industries.

Based on those thoughts, a dareful and innovative cinema was produced along the
60 throughout the whole latin countries and great directors bounded both cinema
and social ideals together, with, of course as well, certain political agendas.
Nevertheless, some of this movies went to Europe and paradoxically ended up in the
mainstream authorial scene which gave to some of them indeed a great recognition.

Now a days Colombian cinema, which has been always trying to catch up with its
brother countries, is building up a new tradition of narrative that strongly both speaks
and takes stories to and from the people and populations that have been mostly
forgotten even by ourselves. The Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015) is an
example that perfectly illustrates that, plus the same idea of the recognition of major
film industries, in this case, in my opinion, thanks to the use of a common language
with them more than a innovative and dislocating storytelling as in the 60s and 70s.
Even so, its particular content and form reached that particular sweet spot achieving
the liking of several different audiences.

This movie is based on the diaries and books by Theodore Koch-Grünberg and
Richard Evans Schultes and tells the story of Karamakate, the last survivor of a tribe
raced by western societies and its encounter with the ahead mentioned characters in
different moments of his life. Throughout the whole movie, guilt, resentment and
search for either avange or redemption are constantly fluctuating in the terrain of
forgiveness and coping with the arrival of the so called old world to the so called new
world.

The movie shakes the discussion about the encounter of two worlds and how both
worlds dealt with that clash from a perspective of an exchange further than -but not
instead of- a pillaging.

In the same way, we could say, this movie retrieves the western and european
tradition in filmmaking and makes it discuss with more local ways. This is perhaps till
a certain extent, what Oswald de Andrade was refering to in his Cannibalist
Manifesto. Certainly is difficult to get a proper quote from the text as its delirious
writing spreads the ideas along its whole body.

“The struggle between what we might call the Uncreated and the Created -
illustrated by the permanent contradiction of man and his taboo. Daily love
and the capitalist modus vivendi. Cannibalism. Absorption of the sacred
enemy. To transform him into a totem. The human adventure. Earthly finality”1

Now of course, in latin america, cinema itself is colonization per se: if it wasn’t for it,
there would be no cinema in the continent. But further from such a reductive and
counter historic argument, we would have to see how that language was
appropriated there the same way religion, language and culture in general was
appropriated and adapted. We cannot forget mixture and miscegenation played a
huge role in the assimilation of the incoming technologies, tools and arts.

One of the elements the particular cinematographic elements we can notice in the
movie is its camera movements. It is without any doubt a narrative camera sticked to
the story and the characters. But from time to time, the camera will stop somehow
paying attention to the actors and the story and will drift away into the river or into the
jungle. A sometimes brilliant sometimes dark river and a dense and wild jungle. It
doesn’t come unnoticed the black and white treatment of the movie. It was made

1
https://events.ccc.de/congress/2009/Fahrplan/attachments/1386_cannibalmanifesto1928.pdf
with a particular intention: avoid the deviation of the audience towards the saturating
bucolic of the overwhelming landscape of the jungle. Instead, an stylized camera
subtly takes care of that beauty in a cinematic way.

There’s a couple of particular shots where the camera seems to embody itself and
leaves the actors to make its own way into the nature. Reminds somehow how the
camera holds and seem to have its own life in Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for
Love”. Keeping the distance and proportions, Ciro Guerra’s camera doesn’t
represent himself and embodies his style as in the chinese director, and might not be
as evident and sort of tale breaking, but it does establishes a relation with the
audience that makes is feel inside and enchanted by the jungle.

On the other hand, there is another moment of intimacy with the audience driven by
an almost breaking of the 4th wall that leads to an actual total break of the aesthetic
of the movie and takes the audience to a completely different style for a couple of
minutes. Almost at the end of the movie, in a close up, the main character faces the
camera eyes and moth closed a couple of second before opening them in which
moment beams of light come out of them and a sequence of stellar and random
shapes starts.

In this beautiful sequence, after all the story behind, all the jungle, rivers, people, all
the troubles narrated by a very careful, clean and somehow silent camera,
everything is driven towards the stabilization of childish lines and a cosmic trip.
Intentionally, the tale is completely broken as its “broken” the tale of the character, its
goal and intentions. Color is introduced as one of the main contrast points adding to
the rupture a fundamental meaning: all the story is part of a fiction based on the
diaries and studies of hegemonic cultures, but in the end reality and truth is nothing
but the revelation that comes after a life changing experience.

Colorwise the movie does an intelligent move. They say one of the achievements of
Chaplin’s “Modern Times” is that the flag he is carrying in the sequence of the
workers striking in the streets is automatically known to be red. There is no need for
the actual color to recognize it as a red flag. Be it the context, the associations or the
particular shade of gray, the audience recognizes it. Same is the jungle. We all
know, perhaps, that the jungle is green. We all have seen it and even more with the
huge dissemination of images in this times. Rather than being obvious and easily
effective with the green jungle, color is used as a contrast tool with a real meaning in
that last sequence. A sequence that recalls ancestral rituals that have been
completely corrupted and misunderstood in the new world we live in, after the
occidentalization of native cultures all around the globe.

After all the 20th century's movies and all the new waves, possibilities of
experimentation have become somehow obsolete and visual narration is drifting
away to new medias and formats. Artists saturated the spectrum of possibilities.
Nonetheless film can always take some advantage from small details to enhance the
intention of their movies and its stories. This one tries to conciliate the clash of two
worlds, but the movie itself is perhaps trying to conciliate styles and cinemas of
different latitudes putting them together to establish a dialogue between narratives
and aesthetics. The cannibalism is then reinterpreted as the dialogue between
cultures rather than the consume to empower. Maybe, after all the resources are
depleting, there is no point on fighting but maybe better to establish a dialogue and
listen (apply also to cinema). Perhaps we should go back to the only good thing left
after colonization: miscegenation.

After all the cannibalism is still there, the mixture, the miscegenation and the reaction
against the standard. But in a different way. As far as it concerns to this movie, that
cannibalism is put into perspective in a way it no longer violently fights against the
dominant cultures, but establishes a aesthetical and narrative dialogue with them.
Maybe, Manduca’s aim during the movie is at the end of the day, the movies goal.