11th October 2019 6.00pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
12th October 2019 11.30am at Embankment Garden Cinema
If we play with fire, we get burnt. And yet there’s something mesmerising that tempts us nonetheless. Pablo Larraín puts his finger on the pulse of our pyromania, drawing us in like a flickering flame and then scorching. The Chilean director offers up a passionate spectacle, with fiery performances captured through luminous cinematography from Sergio Armstrong and accompanied by a rich symphonic score from Nicolas Jaar.
Impulsive contemporary dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and her husband, choreographer Gaston (Gael García Bernal), have been left reeling by a heartbreaking decision to give up their adopted child. The judgement of the community leads the couple to point fingers at each other, and their toxic relationship fluctuates from hot to cold within seconds, finally buckling under the pressure. But Ema is committed to fixing her mistakes, and her maternal instinct leads her on a somewhat unconventional path of redemption.
Newcomer Di Girolamo tantalises from start to finish. She teases us to the point that we can no longer make out the lines between lust and love. Her eyes are ablaze with anger, then the pain of loss, then the primal urge of sex, every shade as vibrant as the last. Bernal is once again a perfect match for the director, capturing the searing existence of the obsessive artist, tortured by his emotional sensitivity yet unable to express himself without causing more pain. Paola Giannini and Santiago Cabrera also give strong performances as the married couple pulled into the centre of the story, though Bernal’s character regretfully gets a little lost at times in an unpredictable, meandering screenplay. We end up with a strange lovers’ quartet that is beguiling and bewildering in equal measure.
Given this somewhat erratic narrative, dance plays a vital part in maintaining the fluency of the film. Contemporary dance sequences are fluid and expressive, complemented by rich strings punctuated by pizzicato and backlit exquisitely by flaming graphics to cast an ethereal glow on Ema’s slicked-back, bleached blonde hair. This is contrasted with the sexually explicit movements of pulsing, syncopated Reggaeton, practised in beautiful exterior settings, the sparkling lights of the city reflecting a sexual freedom that cannot be caged.
In the feature’s most striking shots, Ema sets fire to the urban environment, flames dripping to the pavement like molten gold. A new life rises from the flames, just as Ema rises like a phoenix from its seemingly barren opening.
Ema does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Ema here: