Set in Chile, underlined by a thumping score by Nicolas Jaar and some cool reggaeton choreography, the newest work by Pablo Larrain (The Club, Neruda) is an erotic and suspenseful musical drama.
Larrain’s untameable narrative is a showcase for newcomer Mariana Di Girolama’s incredible performance as Ema, a contemporary dancer dealing with grief and guilt while also embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
The movie is being screened for free on Mubi.com on May 1 and will then be available to subscribers from May 2.
Ema’s marriage to choreographer Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal, reliably on point) begins to unravel after troubling experiences with their adopted son. The heartbreak of giving Polo back because they could not handle his stormy behaviour finally cracks open the marriage.
Larrain keeps shifting the spotlight between Gaston and Ema, making it clear that they blame each other while being equally at fault.
Finally coming out of the shadow of her older partner and devastated by the loss of her son, Ema liberates herself of all conventions. Fiercely non-conformist, she sets little fires everywhere – literally and metaphorically. The visual of Ema standing legs apart with a canister of Napalm strapped to her back as she torches public property is extremely compelling. She is a survivor, and the way she ruthlessly and selfishly manipulates and seduces is both disturbing and fascinating.
Sergio Armstrong’s cinematography leans on reds, blues, greens, neons and flaming orange. The movie comes together in the gloves-off scenes where Gaston and Ema go at each other.
A twisted story about how far someone would go for love and a rejigging of the notion of a modern family blends in debauchery and dance, Ema is not unlike Gaspar Noe’s psychological horror Climax (2018).
Like Ema’s impenetrable personality, the emotions remain opaque. As the surprising final scenes unfold, you realise you have learned very little about Larrain’s characters, that you care neither more nor less for any of them – and that’s not a complaint.
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