Pablo Larraín, 2019


Ema follows the story of a dancer (Mariana Di Girolamo) and her partner Gastón (Gael García Bernal) as their relationship disintegrates following the decision to give up their adopted child after he has set fire to their home, leaving Ema's sister with facial scars.

Following their decision, which they appear to immediately regret, they are faced with ridicule and aggression from those around them. What follows is Ema embarking on a bizarre sexual odyssey with an array of different characters.

Ema cuts between these sex scenes with moments of Ema dancing, which with a lively score attempt to unify the story together in a way that's semi-coherent. The self-seriousness of the preposterous dialogue combined with the superfluousness of certain scenes where Ema aggressively wields a flamethrower does nothing to give the film a sense of purpose beyond its desire to aggravate and shock with its gratuitous nature.

The only purpose of such scenes seems to be to create a film that attacks our audiovisual senses by being memorable rather than purposeful. Whilst the film plays with interesting use of colour and the dance scenes are impressively executed, the end result is a classic case of "style over substance" where there appears to be absolutely nothing at the heart of a frustratingly vacuous piece of work. 

It seems to be too often the case that vibrant visual images and shocking content will now pass for a good film, rewarded simply for being ambitious and breaking away from the norm. Whilst Ema is certainly not an ordinary film, there are far better examples of more coherent films that are far less conventional yet are crafted a more interesting and coherent cinematic language.

Written by Daniel Metcalf

Daniel Metcalf