In 1955, while a Fulbright scholar, a Manhattan painter named Tobias Schneebaum spent seven months in the Amazon basin with the Harakambut. When he returned to the US, he could no longer paint. What happened? Nearly 45 years later, filmmakers want Tobias, now 78 and suffering from Parkinson's, to return to Peru. He refuses but allows that he will revisit the Asmat in New Guinea where he spent an idyllic time years before. That trip goes well, including a serendipitous meeting with Aipit, an aging native and once Tobias' friend and lover. Tobias then agrees to go to Peru to look for the people whom he joined on a murderous raiding party. The scars of war remain as does fear. Written by
I read Schneebaum's book (same title as this film) when it was first published and was deeply moved by his ability to see through the many ways of "otherness" (his own and the people of the Amazon with whom he lived and loved) to a way of living a decent life. His subsequent books were not as powerful, but showed his continuing quest. His description of his sexual relations with the men of the tribe was way ahead of its time in the early 60's, but his honesty and openness about it were welcome. This movie beautifully conveys both the quirkiness and generosity of the man, but also provides a glimpse into the inevitable destruction of innocence (which is not a morally positive term, in this case) that occurs when "civilized" men intrude on traditional societies. Even so, Schneebaum himself has moved into a kind of higher innocence that suggests the possibility of saving humanity from its own destructiveness.
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