Starring Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael García Bernal, Santiago Cabrera
Filmmaker Pablo Larraín has garnered a reputation for his particular use of style as seen in Oscar-nominated films “Jackie“ and “A Fantastic Woman.” His prolific nature, releasing on average two movies a year, combined with such an idiosyncratic vision doesn’t always prove a revelation. Case and point, earlier this year his English remake of “Gloria Bell ” was less than satisfying. The Chilean Oscar-nominee reunites with Gael Garcia Bernal from their film “No,” in an almost abstract, artistic expressionistic film, about adoptive parents who return their child. At times “Ema” is off-putting, focused more on experimentation with light and sound, than it is in diving deep into the characters motives and warped personalities.
Gastón (Bernal) directs a local modern interpretive dance group with his wife Ema (Girolamo) who is the team’s main draw. Her seductive moves and obsession with the material is prioritized over everything else in her life, which most recently included her adopted son Polo. When their son tried to burn Ema’s sister’s face and set numerous other items on fire, the devastation resulted in the couple turning him back over to the adoption agency. The 12-year-difference in age between Ema and Gastón is only the beginning of their marital issues, both are bisexual with interest in other partners, as they grieve for their situation in different ways. Ema decides she cannot live with herself if Polo isn’t in her life and makes the decision to risk everything to put their family back together.
"Heat is what Ema feels when she dances, het that ignites her animalistic sexual appetite."
Pyromania is a big part of the plotlines, not that the source of attraction to fire is fully realized beyond the way it adds to the madness of these character’s decision making. Fire and the reflection it causes in water and on the faces of people is a consistent focal point. Heat is what Ema feels when she dances, het that ignites her animalistic sexual appetite. What might look like loose sexual behavior is all part of this master plan she has constructed that perhaps she doesn’t even fully understand, just hoping it works out in her favor. Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno’s script doesn’t contain much clarity and Larraín doesn’t make the narrative any easier on the viewer trying to understand where and what we are following.
A flaming stoplight is quite a sight for the film to open on and there are many of these unusual but captivating pieces of imagery that reinvest the viewer in the movie every time they appear on-screen. Yet our attention is mostly focused on these selfish and aberrant humans who can barely take care of themselves, not to mention a child. Some couples have no business raising anyone is the real takeaway. The actress who plays the school principal at the end of the film is a random insertion of comic relief. “Ema” isn’t one of Larraín’s strongest, but Chile will likely choose it as their Oscar submission based on successes from the acclaimed director in the past.
"Larraín’s erratic visual style here makes the comprehension of the story more abstract than it needs to be."