Ema: Film Review

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Whenever I go to a film festival, there is always one film I really dislike amongst all the belters and hidden gems, and this year’s spot goes to Ema.

Mariana di Girolamo is dancer Ema and Gael Garcia Bernal is her husband and choreographer Gaston. They have recently given back their adopted son Polo because of behavioural problems. This causes a rift between the couple and they decide to separate, which puts further strain on their dance company. Ema starts having an affair with married man Anibal (Santiago Cabrera) and her divorce lawyer Raquel (Paola Giannini), while also sleeping with members of her dance troupe.

I know characters don’t have to be likeable for audiences to like the film but I really really disliked the title character. She’s a twisted, manipulative sociopath and I couldn’t sympathise with her at all or even understand her actions. She is kept at a distance from us, we are always observing her but we don’t really know what she’s thinking or who she really is.

The film doesn’t have a plot as such, it’s mostly a bunch of random scenes thrown together so we just get jarring glimpses of Ema’s life without explanation. Here’s a montage of her having sex with five different people, here’s her setting fires to property, here’s her dancing. OK cool, what does it all mean? Why is she using a flamethrower around town and randomly setting things on fire?! It’s never explained. Why did she give Polo back?! She never gives us her full reasoning. I have so many unanswered questions!

Also, there’s a big “twist” at the end which is totally ridiculous and had been obvious to me for ages. There are moments giving it away earlier on for people paying attention. It could have given the film a farce-like quality but Ema is too much of a schemer for it to be funny.

Di Girolamo’s acting is fine enough but she really excels and captures my attention when she’s dancing. These dance sequences are the only time I actually enjoy the film. I usually like watching Bernal in movies but his performance is so strange here. He’s so grumpy and sulky and doesn’t react to Ema in the way a normal person should. Cabrera doesn’t really do much beyond sex scenes while Giannini was my standout performer because she actually put some heart into it.

Pablo Larrain makes such weird, off-putting choices with Ema and I’m not surprised a few people walked out of my screening. It’s such a frustrating piece of work.

Ema was originally seen during the 2019 Venice Film Festival. It will premiere on MUBI on Friday 1st May. 

Rating: 2/5


  1. […] they were Marriage Story (five stars), Seberg (four stars), The Perfect Candidate (three stars) and Ema (two […]


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