With his dazzling black and white ethnographic introspection, Sergio Guataquira Sarmiento invites us to meet the Cacua community and meditates on love, friendship and Native American despair. Adieu Sauvage received the Fipresci Prize at the Brussels International Film Festival.
“Tomorrow I will meet a tribe that is dying of love but whose language doesn’t know how to say I love you,” remarks Sarmiento (in French) at the beginning of his first feature film, as he’s flying from Brussels to Columbia as the filmmaker and narrator of Adieu sauvage. In its first part, the movie appears as a quest that mixes both the sociological and sentimental – or one should say existential – aspects, figuring Sarmiento as a young Columbian guy now exiled in Belgium (he was born in Bogota in 1987), who tries to go back to his original background as he figures out from a newspaper that many Indigenous tribes in Amazonia are finding themselves hit by waves of suicides. What should this curse be that seems to strike a whole community like a strange disease?
As the film goes on and Sergio digs into the Vaupés region in the heart of Amazonia, his purpose evolves and it becomes more of a meditation on Indianness as he meets a charismatic man on the banks of the river Rio Vaupés, Laureano, who soon proposes that Sarmiento follow him into the jungle to meet the Cacua people. As the region is only accessible by the river, we enter with them into a secret place that also feels like a lost paradise.
Using only black and white cinematography, the film refuses an exotic regard of the Cacuas and immediately achieves a classical perspective on life, love and the sentiment of loss. The permanent auto-critical regard of Sarmiento of his own work and creative process is also impressive, as he tries not to be an opportunist exploiting the indigenous suffering. As in Europe, he always happens to be a stranger, Sarmiento appears as the “white guy” who’s not useful to this community of self-sufficient hunter-gatherers.
Of course, Sarmiento observes how the community operates towards one another and deals with nature, both spiritually and technically, but his ethnographic perspective is never dominant and the film becomes more of an initiation quest.
With great humour and humility, Sarmiento finds himself too weak for hunting or building things, but his attempts stem more from a wish to get close to Laureano’s personal doubts about life in a community that is more and more isolated. As the shamans have gradually disappeared in Vaupés region, the Cacuas find themselves abandoned and collectively dealing with their own feelings of loss and despair that can’t be said. “I don’t know what nostalgia is, tell me what it means,” says Laureano to Sarmiento as they chat on a sacred mountain. And the film suddenly enters into a magical section, as Laureano shows Sarmiento how to be cured by a dragonfly, before it opens into its last and overwhelming part.
We undeniably observe the birth of a friendship between Sarmiento and Laureano, who surrenders himself more and more as the camera also opens up and captures moments of life: children sleeping, girls playing football or women delousing kids or husbands returning from hunt. In incredibly beautiful night moments by the fire or with the sun getting low in the sky, Adieu sauvage totally avoids ethno-tourism or any “mythe du bon sauvage” (myth of the noble savage – elaborated by philosopher of the French Enlightment era Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Confessions (1765) as a pure idealisation of Indigenous people supposed to be happy because they are close to nature) to get into a deeper experience that finds its subject: with questioning Indianness, Adieu sauvage also questions our sense of love and loss. As Laureano finally confesses personal traumas (the loss of his ancient love Victoria killed by the FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – in the jungle; the impossibilityof really loving his wife Angelina) and the growing feeling of despair around them, the film mutates into a universal meditation where the word “savage” means nothing. Only the links between people remain, whether they know how to say love or not, as long as it shines on their faces.
Edited by Amber Wilkinson
© FIPRESCI 2023