Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring Mariana di Girolamo, Gael García Bernal, Santiago Cabrera
This new film from Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain is a technically ambitious piece of work, that dazzles within the cinematic form, though this may be to mask some of the shortcomings of its title character and how convincing her emotional journey is.
Ema herself (Mariana di Girolamo) is going through hard times with her husband Gaston (Gael García Bernal) after they decide to give up their adopted child due to them causing all sorts of serious issues in their lives (and their families’ lives). From here, we see how the two cope with this loss they somewhat put upon themselves, though the film spends far more time with its title character, losing a needed contrast it could make with this couple.
Ema begins stunningly enough. Not only does it seem to be a visual-aural feast, with surreal touches to the editing as it crisscrosses between this couple’s lives and her on-stage dance performances, but it also explores the off-screen decision to get rid of her child and how this plays upon the emotions of these two – Gaston shows more regret and devastation, whereas Ema tries to submerge her own.
But unfortunately, this soon devolves into a vague tale of Ema finding herself, or whatever. She indulges in sexualised parties with her dancer friends, she develops a taste for pyromania with the aid of a flamethrower, and she updates who it is she sleeps with. All of this is wildly presented with this kind of cinematography, music, and editing, but it’s such an extended moment of the film that could’ve been abbreviated into a montage that would’ve said as much in a much shorter time.
The film sags terribly in this middle part, dragging out this wild new life of Ema – although there’s the context of her trying to back away from pain, it doesn’t convincingly portray it, as Gaston seems to leave the picture at this moment, no longer offering the helpful contrast for Ema’s dealing of pain.
After this part, the film somewhat improves, showing how Ema has progressed from her pain and pleasure – even if the reasoning behind this is incredibly foggy to interpret. This film feels like it has value to it, but it gets lost in the haze of showing how eccentric and erratic both the film and its title character can be. There are some wild images and some nifty cinematography to make it an interesting watch. There’s also the incredibly dominating and powerful electronic score from Nicholas Jaar, which honestly makes this an endeavour where the soundtrack is better than the film itself.
Ema plays at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from Monday, March 1 to Sunday, March 7. For more information and to buy tickets head to perthfestival.com.au