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Ema (2019)

"I'm going to horrify you..."

Sensual, vibrant, psychopathic. Words that on the one hand could describe Mariana Di Girólamo's character of Ema, while on the other could encapsulate the vibe of Pablo Larrain's film as a whole.


Dancer Ema and Choreographer husband Gastón (Gael García Bernal) have effectively returned their adoptive child Polo (Christián Suárez) after he disfigured Ema’s sister with fire. The film begins with Ema wanting her son back, even if it isn't the best choice for both mother and child. Her desire for reconciliation is lost on the society; the couple are shunned in their community, both for their lack of remorse for the child’s feelings and poor parenting. Their relationship is a complete mess, conversations morph from a show of affection into words of hate and disdain within a single moment. They bicker over whose fault it was they lost their son, however from an audience perspective its obvious their immaturity and haphazard lifestyle clearly didn't help.

Fire plays a large part in the narrative going forward, with Ema wielding a flamethrower at multiple times as she burns her way through the Chilean port city of Valparaíso. Only one of the many acts of rebellion and destruction on both a physical and later personal level. As she puts into action her plan to see young Polo once again, Ema is remorseless and relentless in burning a path through marriages, friendships and romantic relationship in desire of her goal.

The films narrative is at times light, leaning more on the cinematography, choreography and score to draw the audience in. While this imbalance usually wouldn’t fool me; the visual and aural onslaught that this film delivers well and truly hooked me from start to finish.

Sergio Armstrong’s Cinematography floats through the city streets, vibrant colours both in the lighting and the walls themselves are a perfect backdrop for the colourful Ema and her trope of Dancers. Unlike Climax (2018) the dancing is less engrained in the narrative, it’s less necessary, but all the more hypnotic and rhythmic. Perfectly married with Nicolas Jaar’s score, you’re drawn into these women’s sense of expression through dance, the release of tension from their performances.


Ema won’t be for everyone, but for me it displayed some of my favourite aspects on cinema in its beautiful cinematography, vibrant style and immersive score. Alongside strong performances from Mariana Di Girólamo & Gael García Bernal, Pablo Larrain's film is a polished Arthouse thrill ride.


For more of my thoughts on Film you can follow me on Letterboxd @Filmmakercore.


A Mubi release, Ema is available on both DVD & Blu-Ray.

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