Pablo Larrain’s Ema is an experience that you go through with a undeniable headiness. It overwhelms you wholly, but gets difficult to pin down in words once you get off the dizzy ride that leaves you energised and tired in equal measure.
A seemingly straight story about a dancer — Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) — on a journey to reclaim the adopted son Palo (Cristian Suarez) whom she had abandoned, makes Larrain dwell on a lot: from individual chaos within her and others to a larger anarchy of relationships among them. There’s Ema’s separation from Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal) stemming from the inability to raise Palo together. Even the sacrosanct motherhood gets seen with a new, provocative eye view. Can you take in and return a son, just like that, on a whim? Can every woman be a good mother? Is it necessary to be a mother at all? Can there be women in whom the allegiance to the self can get the better of the supposedly noble maternal instinct?
- Director: Pablo Larrain
- Starring: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Santiago Cabrera, Paola Giannini, Cristian Suarez
- Run time: 102 minutes
- Storyline: A woman goes on a journey to reclaim the adopted son whom she had abandoned
Larrain leaves you with these questions jostling in your head. Betrayal and uncontained rage, guilt and search for forgiveness underline the unusual (and that’s an understatement) mother-son relationship. Was Ema too young a mother for her foster son? Or was Palo, “the boy with the moustache”, too old to have come under her custody?
At the centre of the film is the free-spirited Ema for whom the only rule is to have none. Di Girolamo comes up with a tempestuous performance to match the wild at heart, restless Ema. She plays her with a total sense of abandon and recklessness, physically as well as from within, as she goes on a tumultuous journey into twisted relationships. So transfixed is your gaze on her that you barely notice anyone else on the screen, not even the otherwise equally rivetting Bernal.
Larrain packs in a lot of conversations as his messed up souls — Ema and Gaston — try to demystify the ties that bind them, rather could not bind them. Sex becomes a risque zone for clandestine emotions and seductive powerplay for Ema, and dance a metaphor for the semblance of rhythm that is there in life. Her incendiary ways find a parallel visual metaphor in fire and flamethrowing; at times it’s literally all about burning the house down. Things do get a bit protracted but the mesmerising images, catchy music and dance and the psychedelic city of Valparaiso itself cast a hypnotic spell. Larrain’s Ema is intoxicating cinema; consume and get consumed.
Ema is currently streaming on MUBI India