The 2016 Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film has already brought a handful of historical firsts for Latin America, with a number of new countries submitting their cinematic best for the Academy’s consideration. But as of today the historical weight of the 88th Academy Awards for Latin America is even greater: the Academy has announced Colombia’s El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent) as the first ever foreign language nomination for the South American cultural powerhouse. Past Colombian nominees include Catalina Sandino Moreno for Best Actress in the drug smuggling drama Maria Full of Grace and director Isabel Vega for her short documentary La Corona.
Directed by Ciro Guerra, who had already turned heads on the European festival circuit with his previous films Los viajes del viento (The Wind Journeys) and La sombra del caminante, El abrazo has picked up numerous awards since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier last year. After being the only Latin American title on the Oscar’s nine-film Foreign Language Shortlist published in December, it is now officially in the five-film final cut alongside titles from Jordan, Denmark, France, and Hungary.
Based on actual travelogues, El abrazo de la serpiente tells the semi-fictionalized story of two scientists and explorers – one North American, the other German – who penetrate deep into the heart of the Amazon, where they meet a solitary indigenous man who claims to be the last of his tribe. There they come face to face with the destructive forces of European colonization both on the local ecosystem and on Amazonian indigenous societies.
Did it help Academy voters that the protagonists are white dudes? We’ll let you decide. More importantly a worthy film is getting its due place among the ranks of world cinema’s greatest. ¡Viva Colombia!