No two Pablo Larraín films are quite the same but, even so, Ema marks a departure. An opaque story told mainly through dance and music, it has his stylistic flair but, sadly, lacks his usual ability to find emotional depths within that style. It makes for an occasionally compelling, and very often striking, film, but also one that will tire you out.
Front and centre are two of Larraín’s most morally compromised protagonists. Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal) are a couple with an explosive level of hate for one another, a hate that spilled over to their adopted son, whom they returned to the state after his violent outbursts. Regretting this, Ema plans to get the boy back, but her methods and endgame are revealed very gradually, and you almost lose interest before the big finale.
Ema and Gaston’s rows are vicious and vile and very well-acted (though outside of the arguments, Bernal looks a little lost), but Ema is at its best when it’s at its most music video-y. An interpretive dancer, Ema expresses herself through movement, and montages of her and her troupe swaying through the city are easily the most engaging sequences, backed by a really fantastic score.
Often, though, there’s just too little to hang on to. Ema and Gaston are eminently dislikeable to the point where you can’t really care about their plight (you certainly wouldn’t want to put a child in their care) and the story takes too long to come together, and then doesn’t end quickly enough once it has.
Larrain is incapable of making an entirely uninteresting film, and Ema’s sounds and visuals are top-notch. Yet, even so, you need a decent script to back your style up, a crucial ingredient that Ema too often lacks.
CAST: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larraín
WRITERS: Guillermo Calderón, Alejandro Moreno
SYNOPSIS: A couple deals with the aftermath of an adoption that goes awry as their household falls apart.