Venezuelan helmer Luis Armando Roche's 1990 debut feature, "The Moving Picture Man" (El cine soy yo), was a middling road movie about a projectionist whose misadventures in a truck took place across contemporary rural Venezuela. Now, six years and two pics later, he makes another film about crisscrossing domestic terrain, but this one takes place two centuries ago under far less cushy circumstances. This go-round, Roche has the comfort of Canadian, French and Venezuelan production monies, but while this study of the exploits of real-life European scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Aime Bonpland in South American jungles is far more adventurous than his first film, its languorous co-production feeling and naive presentation of the old science vs. nature and freedom vs. tyranny debates keep it well in the realm of home consumption. Little to export here, save for specialized nature fests. Roche structures his tale with a flashback. Von Humboldt (Christian Vadim) is 90 years old and an international name, but he has now rethought his priorities. "What is important," he says, "is eternal friendship, the love that I found in this life." That love was the unrequited one the inexperienced man had for the handsome Bonpland (Roy Dupuis), an unrepentant womanizer who was scarcely aware of von Humboldt's feelings in 1779, when the pair searched out the exotic flora and fauna of wild countryside unknown to Europeans and looked for the mythical river Casiquiare.
Together, they sliced huge vines, braved wild animals and insects, fended off hostile natives and prayed they wouldn’t cross into Brazil and encounter unfriendly Portuguese. A devastating earthquake interrupted their explorations and Bonpland’s sexual romps. Ultimately, von Humboldt, who nearly drowned, receiveed a “kiss” from Bonpland, in the form of life-saving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Pic has an unclear political level, as the two botanists have a letter of mission from the French king, but Spanish officials in Venezuela accuse them of being aggressive cartographers rather than benign scientists. They also have the opportunity to liberate slaves and persecuted Indians.
During their field trip, they are accompanied by Pedro Montagner (Carlos Cruz), an indigenous teacher, but here presented as a noble savage. The two-dimensional slave owner Cesar Rivera (Dimas Gonzalez) and a bigoted priest round out their party.
Dupuis, whose good looks and natural exuberance make him stand out, is the only uncaricatured character, since von Humboldt is presented as your run-of-the-mill subdued latent homosexual. (Vadim’s inability to act doesn’t help). All except Pedro nearly lose their minds when they get lost in dense jungle. At this point, the film begins to verge on parody, sort of the Europudding version of “Heart of Darkness,” with Bonpland suddenly morphing into Kurtz.
Technical credits are just barely adequate, although the print shown in Guadalajara was so scratched and garbled that it was hard to tell.