From Oscars to Golden Globes to Cannes Golden Palms, film awards are a highly subjective endeavor. Ultimately, it’s up to you which film may or may not have been the best of year, with the greatest photography, the crispest editing, and the most evocative sound design. But every once in a while, a film comes along that sweeps every major category in every major award from top to bottom, and while that shouldn’t take away from the many other worthy features out there, it’s a pretty good sign that the film in question is damn good. So the latest damn good film coming out of Latin America is Colombia’s submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, El abrazo de la serpiente (The Serpent’s Embrace), by Ciro Guerra.
To date, we have yet to hear word of the Academy’s coveted Foreign Language shortlist. Yet El abrazo has still had a pretty eventful couple of weeks, with a strong showing at the Premios Fénix for Latin American cinema in Mexico City in late November, just before sweeping the Premios Macondo, Colombia’s national film awards. And this is all after taking the top prize at Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight earlier this year. At the Premios Fénix, El abrazo shared the Best Director Award with its principal competitor, Pablo Larraín’s El Club, in addition to prizes for Best Original Score, Cinematography, and Sound Design. At the Premios Macondo, the accolades were even more plentiful, with nods for Best Editing, Sound Design, Original Score, Art Direction, Cinematography, Screenplay, Director, and Best Film.
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. Guerra’s previous two films, The Wind Journeys (2009) and La Sombra del Caminante (2004), had already established the young director as one of Colombia’s most exciting new voices, but it seems that El abrazo has officially cemented his place as Colombia’s preeminent film auteur.
Now let’s just wait and see if an Oscar nomination becomes a reality, and finally propels Guerra into the cinematic stratosphere.
A full list of the winners of the Premios Macondo is here.