Chile 2019
In Spanish with English subtitles

Few films in recent memory have blazed a trail as passionately as Pablo Larraín’s Ema, which signals the director’s return to the present and his native Chile via the incandescent city of Valparaíso.  

Virtual unknown Mariana Di Girolamo, in a star turn you won’t be able to take your eyes off, plays the titular dancer, mother and pyro-lover impervious to social norms. On a quest to reclaim her adopted son Polo, whose absence explains her deteriorating marriage to choreographer Gastón (Gael García Bernal), Ema sets out on a path of deliberate resistance, embracing the orgasmic street movement of reggaeton and embarking on a fluid succession of relationships with people of all genders in her orbit. For reasons that don’t need explaining, she also owns a flamethrower and rejoices in burning shit down – a none-too-subtle metaphor for her relentless pursuit of catharsis and the film’s white-hot energy through which creative and sexual expression bursts forth.

Every bit the firecracker that had critics in Venice, where it premiered, clamouring for superlatives, Larraín’s film is visually stunning, fuelled with combustible symbolism and physicality, and a genuine war cry for dancers, lovers and the matriarchy everywhere. — Tim Wong

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Last updated: 26 June 2020