Ema (2019) Music Box
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal
Plot Summary: Adoptive parents Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gastón (Gael García Bernal) are artistic free spirits in an experimental dance troupe whose lives are thrown into chaos when their son Polo is involved in a shocking incident. As her marriage crumbles in the wake of their decision to abandon the child, Ema embarks on an odyssey of liberation and self-discovery as she dances and seduces her way into a daring new life. Centering on the sinuous, electrifying art of reggaeton dance, Ema is an incendiary portrait of an artistic temperament forced to contend with societal pressure and the urge to conform. From world-class director Pablo Larraín (Jackie, Neruda) comes another psychologically acute exhumation of Latin American life featuring an unforgettable heroine who is determined to move freely through the world as she electrifies everyone and everything around her.
Director Pablo Larraín is quite an interesting director. I had to do a double take because this does not seem like the same director that made Jackie (2016), a well made but very by-the-numbers bio-pic. He’s currently getting rave reviews for another bio-pic drama Spencer (2021). Ema (2019) is probably as far from those films as you could possibly get. Whew! Where do I start? After I got out of a haze and tried to shake myself back to reality, I can without a doubt say that Ema is a fascinating if not utterly draining and frankly daunting watch. Enter a world where you, the audience, are constantly confronted with a carnival of neon colors, perversion, and pyromania all to a rhythmic beat. Oh yeah, this is a dance movie as well.
The nearly two-hour film feels kind of like a telenovela that had been dipped in LSD and set on fire for good measure. Ema takes the blueprint of a pretty standard melodrama yet is peppered with the weirdest dialogue and characters that don’t act even remotely like human beings. In my opinion, the strongest part of the movie is its production design and cinematography. Visually, the movie is a feast for the eyes with its garish neon-drenched set pieces that recall early Argento films like Suspiria (1977). Indeed, you cannot overstate just how impressive this movie looks. The soundtrack is also amazing, and the movie showcases some truly talented dancers.
Frankly, this is a movie that not a lot of people are going to enjoy. It’s a slow burn, and it’s more of a style-piece rather than what I would call a traditional narrative. And, if you aren’t used to just bizarre subplots and heaps of overflowing sexuality, I can easily see this alienating the casual cinema goer. However, I was really transfixed by just how daring, engaging and bat-shit-crazy this film really is. Now I have to wonder if Pablo Larraín gave Jackie Kennedy a flame thrower, would I have enjoyed that movie more? One can only hope for the sequel Jackie II: This Time It’s Personal (Call me, Larraín we can write this thing together).
All jokes aside, if you love dramas but wished they had more sexual issues and fire Ema is a must-see.
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Big film nerd and TCM Obsessed. Author of The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema from Schiffer Publishing. Resume includes: AMC’s The Bite, Scream Magazine etc. Love all kinds of movies and television and have interviewed a wide range of actors, writers, producers and directors. I currently am a regular co-host on the podcast The Humanoids from the Deep Dive and have a second book in the works from Bear Manor.