There’s a persistent tendency in contemporary criticism to frame the subjective as objective. It’s an understandable impulse – “this is an excellent film” is far more persuasive (and punchier) than “I think this is an excellent film” – and one I’m often guilty of. But it has the tendency to erode nuance and erase one’s personal experience, particularly when it comes to awards season grandstanding (watch how La La Land has become almost satanic as the Oscars approach).
This is all a preamble to justify my lukewarm reaction to the universally-acclaimed Embrace of the Serpent. I understand why critics love this film. Its artful black-and-white cinematography, its gentle rhythm, its thoughtful reflection on culture and colonialism. But Ciro Guerra’s diptych portrait of the imperilled Amazon never struck a nerve with me, even as I marvelled at a particular shot or transition. Perhaps it’s that I watched it across three sittings – never a good idea – has some part to play. Or maybe it’s how it attempts to position an Amazonian shaman as its protagonist, yet still feels beholden to a white perspective (based as it is on real-life diaries of European explorers). This is probably a good film. But it wasn’t for me.