sun 06/12/2020

Ema review - vibrant tale of anarchic mum seeking redemption | reviews, news & interviews

Ema review - vibrant tale of anarchic mum seeking redemption

Ema review - vibrant tale of anarchic mum seeking redemption

The new film by the director of Jackie gives whole new meaning to the family drama

I blame the dungarees: Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal wonder where it all went wrong, in Ema

The great Chilean director Pablo Larraín specialises in dark psychological reflections on the past, notably his trilogy of Chilean dictatorship dramas – Tony ManeroPost Mortem and No – and his English-language debut about the personal aftermath of the JFK assassination, Jackie.

The great Chilean director Pablo Larraín specialises in dark psychological reflections on the past, notably his trilogy of Chilean dictatorship dramas – Tony ManeroPost Mortem and No – and his English-language debut about the personal aftermath of the JFK assassination, Jackie.

So Ema is a departure, a contemporary story, focused primarily on young people and with a familiar topic: parenthood. It’s looser, sexier, more playful than his other films. What remains, though, is the narrative invention, Larraín’s penchant for the diabolical twist, and the sheer élan of his filmmaking. 

The setting is the seaport city of Valparaíso. Here twenty-something dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and her older, choreographer husband Gastón (Gael García Bernal) are at a crisis of their own making. Their 10-year-old adopted son Polo has just committed an act of arson with terrible consequences. Rather than stand by him, this narcissistic, high-maintenance couple have handed him back to the child protection service and, in all likelihood, to another family.

Their life now is a bitter mixture of blame and pain. “You taught him to burn things” he chides, while she mocks his infertility. But while Gastón is intent on moving on, Ema decides to win her son back. The context for Ema’s life and redemption is the world of dance, from Gastón’s artfully choreographed shows, to her new, preferred mode of expression – on the streets, to the urgent, rhythmic beats of reggaeton. When she’s not dancing, or teaching dance, she’s hatching a cunning plan that involves a divorce lawyer, a fireman, a lot of sex and, perhaps strategically, the continuing dance of marital discord.  

Inspired by a colourful city that straddles sea and hills, and fuelled by a pulsating soundtrack, Larraín conjures electrifying dance sequences and one mouth-watering image after another. His story, daring in its choice of amoral protagonists, is held together by the charismatic presence of the slightly built, peroxide Di Girolamo. Commendably, the actress doesn’t expect easy sympathy for her anarchic heroine, instead earning it inch by inch as Ema rebuilds her life. Regular Larraín collaborator Bernal (Neruda, No) this time sits unselfishly on the sidelines, as a weak man who needs someone else to steer him towards the right path. 

Larraín’s direction conjures electrifying dance sequences and one mouth-watering image after another

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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