DOXA 2018 review: Ex-Shaman


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      First contact for the Paiter Suruí people of the Brazilian Amazon came in 1969 after four centuries of isolated forest life, when shaman Perpera was 20 years-old and still a vital member of the community. Some 50 years later he’s reduced to shuffling around as the caretaker at the local church, silently observing the unfolding collapse of preconquest consciousness (to borrow the phrase from anthropologist E. Richard Sorenson) and the loss of magic.

      Colonial reality has brought pharmaceutical-dispensing medics, first person shooter phone apps, and Facebook activism to the Paiter Suruí, but when a community elder languishes in a coma following a snakebite, Perpera is called upon to reconnect with the spirits he was forced to abandon half a century ago as “evil”.

      From filmmaker Luiz Bolognesi, Ex-Shaman uses some practical western cinematic magic of its own to convey both the absence and the persistence of enchantment in Perpera’s world. With impressive CinemaScope vistas already eating away at the film's credibility as documentary, it seems that Bolognesi has wrangled his footage into a quasi-fictional narrative, landing on a kind of diplomatic storytelling language to bridge two stubbornly incompatible worldviews.