Film Review: Icaros: A Vision

Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic plant-derived drink famous in Peru, definitely sounds intriguing, even if it has already spawned at least two films which deal with it in oh-so-boring fashion.
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We are deep in the Peruvian Amazon, where Angelina (Ana Cecilia Stieglitz), an American suffering from cancer, has reached her destination, a healing center run by two shamans, Guillermo (Guillermo Arévalo) and his grandson Arturo (Arturo Izquierdo). Their basic m.o. consists of treatment with the notorious hallucinogenic ayahuasca plant as well as icaros, medicinal chants gleaned from the murmurings of jungle plants. Other denizens of the place are a drug addict seeking a cure and Leonardo (Filippo Timi), an actor who wants to be cured of his stuttering. Ultimately, Angelina is told by Arturo that she has “susto” (the disease of fear)—a plight he shares, beset with an eye affliction which will result in blindness.

Directed by Matteo Norzi and Leonor Caraballo, who herself died of cancer during the film’s making, Icaros: A Vision is a wandering and wayward journey into psychedelia and spiritualism which may entrance staunchly countercultural types while maddening the rest of us. The film had the potential to be both instructional and entertaining, like a multi-ethnic update of Private Worlds or The Cobweb, with drugs and tribal rituals replacing Freud and Jung to cure a motley crew of afflicted souls. But no such paltry ambition fueled these filmmakers: No! They had to go ahead and try to make art. Hence, we have a plethora of hallucinogenic-looking footage and even animation to convey the experience of taking ayahuasca, at the expense of coherent storytelling. We only learn of Angelina‘s cancer obliquely, through shots of her body entering an MRI machine envisioned during her herbal treatment; other plot points and characters are never fleshed out or go missing entirely after a spell. True engagement with any of the characters becomes impossible, so resolutely are they confined to their rote roles as mysterious wisdom-givers (the native shamans) and all-too gullible lost souls (the patients).

The lushly teeming locale emerges as the real star of the picture, gorgeously lensed by Ghasem Ebrahimian, as well as a wonderfully dignified and sage aged local woman who fervently extolls the seemingly infinite variety of plants to be found there and their particular healing properties. Although a much better and more thoughtful film than the similarly themed The Last Shaman, Icaros is more frustrating than enlightening, for roughly the same reasons that the other film failed so utterly.

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