Tricia Youlden

Embrace of the Serpent ★★★★ M

From Colombian director Ciro Guerra comes this remarkable film about the relationship between Amazonian shaman Karamakate and two explorers, four decades apart. The “serpent” of the title is the Amazon River, which winds through the deepest jungle of the north-west Amazon.

Early in the 20th century, German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet), encounters the young Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), who administers life-saving herbal medicine to the ill scientist. Forty years on, American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schulte (Brionne Davis) seeks him out in search of yakruna, a powerful plant capable of teaching people how to dream.

The now-aged Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar Salvador) is a shell of a man with no memories, no emotion: a “chullachaqui”. Yakruna helps him remember the traumatic events that his mind has suppressed.

In his dreams, he sees the brutal extermination of his people by avaricious strangers come to exploit the rubber from the trees of the Amazonian jungle. He also vividly recalls the frenzied corporal abuse inflicted upon children by Christian missionaries.

Guerra and co-writer Jacques Toulemonde have based their screenplay on the journals of the two scientists. Embrace of the Serpent, the first fiction feature film to be shot in the Colombian Amazon in 30 years, was shot in monochrome, which makes it resemble old footage. Much of the dialogue is in the dialect of the Ocaina-Huitoto people, which adds to the illusion that we are watching a documentary about the evils wrought by commercial greed and religious zealotry.

Truman ★★★★ MA

As the film begins, Tomas (Javier Camara), is leaving his home in Canada to visit his old friend, Julian (Ricardo Darin) in Madrid where they had lived there together as students before Tomas’ postgraduate studies took him to a life in Canada.

Julian has had a successful acting career, and we learn that he is terminally ill: his lung cancer has metastasised and he has refused further chemotherapy.

In the four days they spend together the old friends tidy up the loose ends in Julian’s life. Julian is able to confide in his old friend and honestly express his fears and regrets.

Tomas also provides welcome support for Paula (Dolores Fonzi), Julian’s cousin and self-appointed carer. Shortly after they see Julian star in a play by Moliere, the producer announces that Julian is to be replaced. Not only does this cue “curtain down” on Julian’s career but also on his life. It is time for farewells.

Believing that Julian’s son, Nico, has a right to know that his father is dying, Tomas coerces him into flying to Amsterdam for an impromptu lunch to celebrate Nico’s 21st birthday. Julian cannot discuss his prognosis with his son but one senses that the boy knows. Their farewell is poignant but, as throughout the film, director Cesc Gay refrains from the sentimental.

Julian’s main concern is that Truman (Troilo), his faithful old dog, will grieve after his master’s death. The scenes in which Julian and Tomas introduce Truman to prospective owners are both amusing and touching. Indeed, throughout the film, a wry sense of humour sustains the characters and, in a way, the audience.

The four days pass quickly and the once inseparable pair must now say a final goodbye. At the airport, Julian has one last surprise, which leaves Tomas and the audience smiling.

The writing, the performances, Andreu Rebes’ skilful cinematography, Nico Cota’s restrained score and the straightforward design make this film feel very real. Watching Truman is a heartwarming and quite intimate experience.

Goldstone ★★★★ M

Written, directed and shot by the inimitable Ivan Sen, Goldstone is a worthy sequel to Mystery Road. Although Jay (Aaron Pedersen) has clearly been going through an emotionally turbulent time, once he gets down to business — in this case investigating the disappearance of a young Asian woman — he proves as relentless and committed as in the previous film.

Contemporary Furness Creek is a far cry from that depicted in the opening montage of old photos of Aboriginal and Chinese families from bygone Gold Rush days. Now the mines are vast open gashes in the landscape. Just as miners are flown in and out by the company that is despoiling the countryside, so too are young Asian “hostesses”, forced to work in the company’s bar.

Jay’s arrival in town threatens the self-serving plans of Maureen, Mayor of Furness Creek (Jackie Weaver, channelling a well-known WA mining identity), and the Manager of Furness Creek Mines (David Wenham). When enigmatic Aboriginal elder, Jimmy (David Gulpilil), resists their unethical tactics, the tension mounts.

Supporting actors Alex Russell, Tommy Lewis, Ursula Yovich, Michelle Lim Davidson and Pei Pei Cheng flesh out this well-crafted “Western” thriller that explores the philosophical, ethical and spiritual issues pertaining to our relationship with the land.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie ★★★ PG

Justine Saunders and Joanna Lumley reprise their iconic roles as best friends Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone in what feels like an extended television episode of Ab Fab.

Familiar characters such as Edina’s mother (June Whitfield), daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha), her crazy PA Bubbles (Jane Horrocks), her ex-husband Marshall (Christopher Ryan) and his domineering wife, Bo (Mo Gaffney), all make an appearance.

Kate Moss, Lulu, Joan Collins head the list of more than 30 major and minor celebrities who appear as themselves while Barry Humphries plays Charlie, Patsy’s former lover — a “goldmine waiting to be mined by gorgeous young gold diggers”.

Eddie and Patsy are in dire straits. Stella McCartney has banned Eddie from entering her shop and not even “Random Penguin” is interested in publishing her memoir, “A Fabulous Life”. Even worse, there is no more Bolly in the fridge!

So when Eddie learns that Kate Moss is between PRs she scrambles to beat her arch-rival Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie) to sign up the celebrity supermodel. Unfortunately, in the rush she accidentally pushes Kate into the Thames and finds herself facing a charge of murder. Flimsy though the plot is, the film becomes more engaging from this point on.

Having ingeniously escaped to the French Riviera with the financial help of Saffy’s 13-year-old daughter, Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), Patsy and Edina set out to find a rich husband for Patsy. Meanwhile, Saffy and her detective boyfriend Nick (Robert Webb) are desperately trying to find Lola.

This gives rise to a particularly memorable scene in which Saffy reduces a nightclub full of drag queens to tears by her touching rendition of Janis Ian’s “At 17”.

Yes, the film is padded and, yes, some scenes are too silly for words. Despite that, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is no better, but no worse than the television series that spawned it. As Eddie might say, it is simply full of “mindlessness”. Providing, as it does, a wry commentary on the fatuous nature of fashion and celebrity, it could be called Ab Fat.

Our Kind of Traitor ★★★★ MA

Our Kind of Traitor, screenwriter Hossein Amini’s adaptation of the latest novel by John Le Carre, admirably maintains the high standard set by A Most Wanted Man and The Constant Gardner. Set in London, Marrakech, Paris, Bern and the French Alps, this suspenseful spy film is tautly directed by Susanna White.

From the stylish opening scenes at the Bolshoi Ballet it is clear that the stakes are high in whatever powerplay “Prince” Nicolas Petrov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) and his consigliere, Emilio Del Oro (Velibor Topi), are involved — high enough to warrant the cold-blooded execution of oligarch Misha (Rasha Bukvic), his wife and teenage daughter. The tension thus established is sustained subsequently throughout this fast-paced film.

The nature of Petrov’s business is revealed in Marrakech where an ebullient Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard), who was a friend of Mischa, befriends Perry (Ewan McGregor), a London professor of poetics, and his barrister wife, Gail (Naomi Harris).

Following Mischa’s murder, Dima rightly fears that he and his family are in mortal danger. As a top money-launderer for the Vory (Russian mafia), he holds vital information about the Vory’s involvement in the proposed City of London Arena Bank. Dima proposes to trade this information for asylum in Britain for himself and his family.

While the Marrakech holiday might not have completely salvaged their fraying relationship, Gail and Perry’s ensuing commitment to helping the charismatic Russian and his family reforges the bond between them.

Back in London, they find themselves embroiled in a web of intrigue and political corruption as MI6 agent Hector Meredith (Damian Lewis), believes Dima’s information could validate his suspicions that former MI6 head, Aubrey Longrigg MP (Jeremy Northam), is thoroughly corrupt.

Not only do McGregor, Harris, Skarsgard and Lewis give us completely believable characterisations, but all minor roles are just as deftly drawn. As Dima’s wife, Saskia Reeves’ facial expression and demeanour convey volumes.

These fascinating characters and narrative are enhanced by Anthony Dod Mantle’s superb cinematography, Sarah Greenwood’s detailed production design and Julian Day’s inspired costumes. Marcelo Zarvos’ subtle, yet moody, score hits all the right notes throughout this enthralling film.

Tricia Youlden teaches drama at Willoughby Girls High School