August 6th, 2021
STARRING: MARIANA DI GIROLAMO, GAEL GARCIA BERNAL, SANTIAGO CABRERA
DIRECTED BY: PABLO LARRAIN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
From the same director that gave us Jackie and NO, arrives his most recent and most original film yet- Ema. It’s a story about Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal), a married couple, unable to have children, and deciding to adopt in their country of Chile, but the narrative begins with them having decided to return their problem child Polo (Cristian Suarez). From there, things focus on the dynamic of this couple, and more specifically Ema; We capture a glimpse of a passion and powerful emotion that courses through the veins of these two characters. Their highs and lows, sexual prowess, powerful dance moves, and heavy emotions. Ema is a vibrant experience, following a couple in their most vulnerable state, resulting in a film that reveals both the haunting and amazing power of director Pablo Larrain.
What can’t be stated enough is how good Ema looks. The framing style and the types of camera lenses used change the dynamic of this story. The cinematography is done by Sergio Armstrong, responsible for Larrain’s earlier films NO, Neruda, and The Club. Here however, things are much different than the pair’s previous three collaborations. The camera stays in a square frame, capturing our lead character from mid-chest up, honing in on the enigmatic grace of rising star Mariana Di Girolamo, while moving the camera in a way that waltzes with the raw emotions. It’s not all tight shots either. Ema has a complete grasp of the space that the characters inhabit, and because of the wider range, we’re able to see these people for all of who they are.
A word I would use to describe Ema is: Freedom. That sense of unbridled freedom lingers for the entire runtime, but it is also the conflict, and major crux of these characters. We see Ema and Gaston constantly waver in their choice of giving Polo back, blaming one another for the things that young Polo had done, while conflicted in enjoying their independence of life. Gaston is the choreographer of his dance school, while Ema is the magnetic leader within the dancer’s circle of friends. Within the dynamic of this relationship, is their open and free views of sexuality, which swings into full exploration for Ema. The process begins for Ema and Gaston to divorce, which slowly turns into a liberation of love and freedom for both people. Lerrain captures it all, allowing us to see the highs and lows, never afraid to let the camera linger on Ema’s face, never shy in moving the scenes from one lover to the next, and often lighting the sets with a luminous neon glow. Even when nothing is happening on the screen Ema is filled from the top of the screen to the bottom with energy, and it’s infectious.
The performances from the two leads are also worthy of praise, where the screenplay by Larrain, Guillermo Calderon, and Alejandro Moreno reads with such authenticity, it’s hard to imagine a single word was even written. It helps to have Bernal, an actor that has become Larrain’s go to, and his performance here is once again multilayered; But the showstopper is Girolamo, who dances and conversates her way into our hearts. Her work has a dash of what we see in early performances by Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, or Juliette Binoche, but that’s not the path Girolamo is going for. She’s her own artist here, playing a woman stalled, in love with a man that can’t provide her with children, a person bursting with life, but not able to produce it. Her passion for the pleasure of life is her character’s downfall and beauty.
Another factor in seeing the excellence of Ema is that multiple viewings are more than worthy for a film of this depth. It would make a perfect double feature film with another story of flawed lovers in- Monday. For Ema, There’s too many complexities, with such a rich flooding of drama, that it’s not possible to gather it all along the way. I’m not entirely sure if I loved the ending- which might be a reason for my 3 ½ stars instead of 4- but a theme that Larrain often pokes at is the concept of fact and fiction. The ending could be a fantasy for Ema. If the story were to continue we might be a witness to her demise. We might see a future that she never thought could have been possible. That’s what makes a movie like Ema so special, it’s a cinematic expression of what it means to be alive. Ema is a movie to live, to see, and breathe it all in.
EMA IS CURRENTLY PLAYING AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATER AND SELECT THEATERS THIS FRIDAY AUGUST 20TH
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady