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#TIFF19 Review: Ema (Special Presentations)

September 16, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest film from Chilean director Pablo Larraín, following up his radical English-language biopic Jackie, Ema opens with an image of a street light on fire, and this provides an oddly fitting start to the film. Ema (Mariana di Girolamo) is a professional dancer who adopted a young son from Colombia with her choreographer husband Gastón (Gael García Bernal), and had to give the boy back to the adoption agency after he set fire to their home. This sends Ema on a strange journey that doesn’t necessarily reveal itself at first, as she tries to pick up the pieces of her fractured family unit.

With a tone that shifts constantly between drama, comedy and dance movie, with hints of a problem child horror film, Ema is a bit of a hot mess at times, but an often gloriously entertaining and even exhilarating one, featuring striking cinematography by Sergio Armstrong. The domestic scenes are matched by visceral and well choreographed dance sequences, including freeing moments when Ema dances through the streets of the Chilean city of Valparaíso, burning shit up with a flamethrower.

Larraín has crafted a family melodrama with an experimental, art house aesthetic that is fuelled by anarchic, burn the house down energy, and many of the freewheeling choices that he makes here should be applauded. The film is also filled with bisexual representation, as its title character passionately and freely has sex with both men and women, and it feels like a campy queer classic in the making.

Mariana di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal in Ema

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 8th – 9:15 PM at Winter Garden Theatre

Wednesday, September 11th – 9:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 9:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

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