Ema (2019)

Visually and aurally invigorating and mesmerising, yet challenging for viewers to connect with its titular character, Larrain’s latest may be a bold stylistic departure but is arguably his weakest effort in a long while.    

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Pablo Larrain
2019 | Chile | Drama/Music | 107 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish
Not rated – likely to be R21 for homosexual content, sexuality, nudity and coarse language

Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Santiago Cabrera
Plot: A couple deals with the aftermath of an adoption that goes awry as their household falls apart.
Awards: Won UNIMED Award, Nom. for Golden Lion & Queer Lion (Venice)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Already his eighth feature film, Ema is notable because it marks a bold stylistic departure from what has come before. 

In that regard, one might see Pablo Larrain’s latest film as a fresh reinvention of his brand of cinema, which largely centered on history and politics through the eyes of nondescript fictional characters as in Tony Manero (2008) and Post Mortem (2010), or real-life figures in Neruda (2016) and Jackie (2016). 

The titular character in Ema is young and now, a dancer obsessed with reggaeton, who belongs to a dance troupe led by Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal), who is also her husband. 

Played with physical intensity by a promising Mariana Di Girolamo, Ema desires to be reunited with her adopted son (now readopted by another couple) whom she had abandoned due to escalating circumstances that resulted in violence and humiliation. 

As you will see, Ema has other desires as well (like arson and sex), and for the most part, Larrain tries to present a complex narrative about the fragility—as well as liberal reconfiguration—of family dynamics in a contemporary Chile that seems to have blissfully forgotten its dark political past. 

Visually and aurally invigorating and mesmerising, Ema seems to operate like a semi-perverse ‘musical’ of sorts.  Rhythmic movement is the name of the game here as Larrain sees the complementary sensualities of dance and sex.  (As a character puts it – those who can dance, fuck better.) 

It might sound like I was enthralled by the film, but while it is an interesting picture, it was difficult for me to connect with Ema—or with the other supporting characters. 

Larrain’s film also feels more forced and less natural in the second half, as if to ensure that the narrative will be able to hold itself together (it barely does). 

In the final analysis, I can feel the texture of Larrain’s film, like a hand caressing a piece of fine quilt, but it is harder to ascertain why the quilt exists as such and to feel connected to it.

Grade: B-



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