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Chilean drama “Ema” – A Passionate Journey To Yourself

Latin American films in Russian cinemas are becoming more and more common. But even world-famous directors from Latin America barely attract the Russian audience, not to mention independent films, created on the basis of almost unknown cultural material in our country, even if films address to the most universal themes. Among those films is the drama of the Chilean director Pablo Larraín “Ema”. In three weeks of screening the film’s box office in Russia amounted to 1.1 million rubles, and 3,827 viewers watched it. Although the film cannot be called an outsider, it failed to enter the TOP-100 in 2020.

“Ema is the sun, everything revolves around her; and if you get close to the sun, you can easily get burned.”

Pablo Larraín

About The Film “Ema”

Ema and the flame
Shot from the film “Ema”

The film “Ema” tells the story of overcoming a personal crisis of a young dancer, who in a very ambiguous way tries to right her wrongs and find herself.

Almost immediately, the viewer learns that Ema (Mariana di Girolamo) and Gaston, her husband and choreographer at the same time (Gael García Bernal), refused from the adopted boy due to the fact that he began to show cruel inclinations.

Ema and Gaston
Shot from the film “Ema”

Far from making the life of the spouses easier the decision put their relationship on the brink of rupture, turned society against them and brought to the surface the most contradictory and unbridled sides of their nature. That is when Ema picks up a flamethrower. She’s going to burn everything with napalm to sow everything again. Then she leaves the troupe of Gaston, as well as himself, to completely surrender to the synthetic musical style of reggaeton, which allows her to finally express her feelings through her own body.

And if an androgynous bisexual heroine seeking motherhood with a flamethrower at the ready is simply discouraging, then bizarre frank, and sometimes categorically inappropriate dialogues can cause disgust. But let’s leave the bigotry aside. This is a 16+ film (even 18+ in on-line cinemas). And these dialogues, like Ema’s passionate copulation with most of the characters on the screen, are not just daring provocations or hedonistic manifestations. This is an egoistic act of liberation, emancipation and self-knowledge, it is a kind of political manifesto of a generation. And the metaphor for this is a dance.

Reggaeton in the film
Shot from the film “Ema”

Reggaeton was not originally part of the director’s idea, but it turned out to be an element of the composition and an important part of the atmosphere, which for this film is perhaps even more important than the plot itself. To tell the truth, the uneven narration does not prevent from reading the main line of events with enough accuracy yet in the first half of the film and put it aside in order to fully enjoy the two main advantages of the film “Ema”.

The first undoubted advantage is the atmosphere of the film as a whole and the atmosphere of the port of Valparaiso itself. Various locations of the city are captured by the frenetic element – whether it be a primal reggaeton that allows you to “dance an orgasm”, or a soothing liberating flame that begins and ends everything. The city is the character of the film as well. Its texture is beautifully presented in many catchy details, such as faded graffiti on parapets, cranes in the port, staircases, cable cars, winding hilly streets and, of course, impressive panoramic sea views in the rays of the sun or in the neon lights.

Ema and Valparaiso
Shot from the film “Ema”

Another indisputable advantage of “Ema” is the virtuoso compositional construction of the frame. The credit goes to Sergio Armstrong, the cameraman who worked on most of Pablo Larraín’s films. Angle and perspective, symmetry, light and shadow – all these elements are built into a clear structure, the magic of which is able to catch the eye of even the most inexperienced viewer. Subtly placed accents add depth to scenes not only in spatial, but also in semantic dimension. The figure of the main character moves the plan, and the compositional details fill the shots with subtext and allow you to feel the mood of the scene, catch its emotional content and read the unobvious binary oppositions from which Ema struggling to escape.

About The Director

Pablo Larraín at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival, 2015.
Pablo Larraín at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival, Berlin, Germany, on February 14, 2015. Photo: magicinfoto.

“Ema” is the eighth feature film by Chilean Pablo Larraín. Like his “Jackie” (2016) nominated for an Oscar in three categories, “Ema” was premiered at the Venice Film Festival. It has become a tradition for Pablo Larraín to present his works at the most prestigious cinematographic venues. And for the world film industry – to unconditionally rely on his talent since the next Larraín’s film “Spencer”, the shooting of which is in full swing, is dedicated to no less iconic figure than Jacqueline Kennedy – Princess Diana.

The Chilean director’s work is straightforward and often has a high age rating, highly justified in the case of the film “Ema”, filled with deliberate sexual aggressiveness and provocative scenes.

Politics is another important topic for Larraín: his “Autopsy” (2010), “No” (2012) and “Neruda” (2016) cover certain aspects of the political history of Chile. The film “Ema” is also about politics in its own way. According to Larraín, the character is always political, and his Ema is the embodiment of a certain political view of the problems of freedom, authority, family, motherhood and friendship, a view that is not always clear to the director himself and to his generation. But Larraín deliberately refuses to judge it, leaving that to us.

Pablo Larraín’s films also attract attention with an extraordinary perspective, as, for example, in the film “Club” (2015), which brought the authors the Grand Prix at the Berlin Film Festival. And in the film “Ema” the director finds completely unexpected forms to address the problems of unsuccessful adoption, the emancipation of women, the transformation of the concept of family and sexuality. As if Larraín made grotesque casts of modernity, methodically arranged them in the shot, painted them with neon, filled them with a hypnotic rhythm and encouraged us to comprehend the shocking and attractive ethics and aesthetics of a new generation.

Thus, the film “Ema” is a striking emotional drama on how to feel life and find freedom. This film is about modernity and for the modernity. This is a controversial attempt to comprehend the world through the eyes of a new generation in the context of breaking gender stereotypes (and in Latin America, this topic is especially acute) and a radical transformation of fundamental social institutions and social roles; to understand the world through the eyes of a generation professing other values, thinking in other categories within the framework of other paradigms, but constrained to overcome all the same universal crises that sooner or later everyone has to face, regardless of their nationality, gender or age.

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