Ema movie cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Mariana Di Girolamo
Ema movie director: Pablo Larrain
Ema movie rating: 3 stars
If it’s Larrain, expect the unexpected. In and of itself, a filmmaker who is constantly surprising you, both with form and content, is someone to welcomed. But sometimes the jagged edges of a narrative twisting and turning to find itself becomes a stretch: ‘Ema’ is a mixed bag of delights, and I’m breathless, and a little exhausted.
Ema, played by first-timer Girolamo, is a mixed bag herself. She wants to love her adopted son, just as much she must have loved her husband Gaston (Bernal) at some point. But the little boy has a dangerous love for fire, and manages to pile up one unconscionable act upon another, which forces the couple to return him to the adoption home.
That’s right. Return. As though he were damaged goods, which the sender is honour-bound to take back. You are just about done recoiling in horror, when you see Ema herself, kitted out with a flamethrower, sauntering around the city, burning things. When she’s not doing that, she is dancing. And when she takes a break from both, she is having sex.
You are used to this director messing with your head: his last outing Jackie, an account from the first lady’s point of view after the assassination of Robert Kennedy is perhaps his straightest movie. At Ema’s’ psychedelic, crazy heart is a primal, often neglected idea: not all people make good parents. But all people are capable of love and hurt, in equal measure, and in the bizarre, sometimes contrived ways the film lays that out, it reaches you. And moves you.
But through the entire proceedings, you cannot take your eyes off Girolamo, who is electric. Bernal is so subdued that you barely notice him: has their time together decimated his spirits? With her ashen blonde hair pulled tightly off her face, her lithe body swaying to the music, and her eyes, so often swimming with emotion, she is someone you cannot ignore, or dismiss. You keep looking at her, even when there’s nothing moving on her face, just to see what she will do next. And when it comes, you are not ready for it. It helps a great deal, though, that she dances really well. And finally, when she does find what she’s looking for, you are happy for her.
Ema puts out many contradictory things out there, but my biggest takeaway is something quite simple: love can heal even the deepest wounds. And that sometimes, you can burn the dislike, and hatred, off.
(Streaming free on May 1)
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