Review by Sean Boelman
Directed by Pablo Larraín (Jackie) from a script by Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno, Ema is an expressive new drama. Featuring some truly breathtaking cinematography and dance performances, this film definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who appreciate its artistry will likely find it to be a new favorite of theirs.
The movie follows a couple as they deal with the fallout from a failed adoption, impacting their relationship and their careers. The plot is less of a focus than the emotion, though. The film's conflict revolves around reggaeton and flamethrowers, and it’s weird and intriguing, to say the least. Some viewers will be put off by this unorthodox narrative.
Larrain’s method of telling the story is also extremely unconventional and ambitious, and it consistently pays off. Scenes featuring conflict between the couple are intercut with prolonged dance sequences that are hypnotic and intricately choreographed. As a result, the movie feels more like an artistic statement than anything else.
It’s definitely very interesting to dissect what this film has to say because of the multifaceted nature of the story. The main message of the movie explores the idea of creativity and self-expression, but the more intriguing part of the film provides commentary on the protagonist’s grief and anger.
The thing about the movie that is absolutely undeniable is its aesthetic grandeur. The cinematography by Sergio Armstrong is among the most gorgeous that will ever grace the screen, especially during the dance sequences. The music by Nicolas Jaar is phenomenal as well, filled with the sounds of reggaeton.
Calderón and Moreno do a wonderful job of developing the core relationship of the film. It feels like it comes from a place of honesty regarding the conflict they are experiencing. For a movie that primarily functions as a case study of ethics, it’s nice to see that the characters are fully-developed and not simply archetypes to get a point across.
As always, Larraín is able to get amazing performances out of his actors. Lead actress Mariana Di Girolamo is phenomenal in her role. She is able to handle both the complexity of the dance sequences and the nuance of the more tense and emotionally-charged scenes. Gael García Bernal is also a standout in his supporting role, bringing great delivery to some of the film’s most powerful scenes.
While the idiosyncratic narrative of Ema won’t appeal to everyone, it’s probably the most gorgeous and daring art film to be seen in a while. It’s not quite like anything else that Larraín has done, but it shows that he is one of the finest directors working today.
Ema hits theaters on August 13.