There is a glorious subsection of films that looks into the evocative and profound world of dance. Whilst more mainstream hits such as Magic Mike and Step Up do venture into more titillating entertainment, there are movies like And Then We Danced and Mari resonate with us across the boundaries.
Whilst albeit a little self-indulgent, Pablo Larraín’s Ema is a stirring piece, using dance to somewhat attempt to delve deeper into a sexual and grief-stricken odyssey.
Ema revolves around a grief-stricken couple, the titular woman and her husband Gastón who are reeling after feeling forced to send their adoptive son Pablo away. Surrounding by detractors and people astonished by their act, Ema and Gastón try to move forward with their lives. However, Ema soon becomes embroiled in a chaotic and erotically charged journey to deal with her turbulent emotions.
Larraín’s work here is definitely palpable – a visual exploration, through dance sequences, into the make-up and thoughts of these two people. Though the characters are unlikeable, even malicious in some places, there is a clear, defining direction that helps you delve into their psyche. The director has a striking use of colour, portraying Spain as this wild, urban, neon landscape. This heightened city and vibrant cinematography is powerful alongside succinct and almost fantastical dance sequences.
There is a clear motif of fire throughout: A dalliance with a fireman, a car engulfed with flames, and an intoxicating image of lights on fire. The use of fire is crucial, bringing heat to the child’s acts as Ema tries to unwind and understand his mind set (or, perhaps, her own mind set, which is why she pushed him away.) The burning still smokes throughout.
Though the film is enhanced by these exquisite visuals, and though it simmers more in shallow waters, Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno’s script keeps the characters alive. It is smart writing that keeps you invested in these characters who can be vicious in their trauma. They commit an unspeakable act which sees them face much derision and it is so easy to hate them and what they did. But the film weaves the tension and their frustration and pain gloriously.
It helps that the lead performances are great. Mariana Di Girolamo as Ema is terrific and evokes a mother’s loss, even when it is her reasoning. She is simply phenomenal to watch. Gael García Bernal is a good stoic foil for her, brooding with rage underneath a glacial exterior. They entwine together in these nightscapes and sexual exploits and pain and anguish. It is utterly stunning to watch.
There ae many twists and turns in Ema that can dampen the overall effect of the somewhat crushing finale. It’s true that Larraín’s work demands your utmost attention. However, the movie is an enchanting exploration of
It feels as mournful and magic as reality can be.
Ema had a virtual preview on MUBI
It is out from 2 May