Ema (2019) is now streaming on MUBI
The recognition of Chilean cinema around the world grew notably in the 21st century, and one of those responsible for this is Pablo Larraín. He is one of the few recent cases of filmmakers without bad films. Some better than others, of course, but growing since the beginning of their career. It was in the post-2010 works that he managed to stand out, for telling strong stories even more strongly (and with his undeniable charm). His new film, Ema (2019), is not only another hit in the career but his ultimate masterpiece. Several elements that consecrated Larraín return here, however in a unique power.
The director takes several risks that open up how today’s society is still full of taboos, and it’s customary for films that try to do this to approach with a frustrating appeal. But Larraín decides to go back in time and pick up elements of great directors already consecrated to make this movie a unique experience. Godard changed the perspective of female protagonism in the vision of the male direction in the 1960s with works such as Breathless (1960) and Vivre sa Vie (1962), and Larraín does the same with Ema (2019). Treating the internalized character and her feelings in a weird way during the narrative. But showing bit by bit that she’s always ahead of everyone, planning and taking advantage of the chances in the middle of chaotic and unpredictable things of life.
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Another giant that the director draws on is David Lynch. The transcendental pessimistic oneirism that literally translates into very powerful dance scenes (reminding Gaspar Noé’s Climax in that sense as well), but between the lines with his casting that shows the false appearances. It’s a narrative of a unique character study that crosses drama, romance, and thriller with a lot of sensuality. Pablo Larraín knew how to use everything he had in his hands thinking about each area – be it the sensorially delicious soundtrack, the reflexive edition of a putrid dream, or the schizophrenic costumes, Larrain puts together a seductively unforgettable reggaeton opera.
Naturally, the script by Guillermo Calderón and Alejandro Moreno is a very rare pearl for sparing no effort in making the protagonist a walking metamorphosis in her decisions which are essentially not contradictory to each other. But the effect on the spectator can pass from penalty to contempt within seconds. The dialogues are also able to capture a lot of this when we hear certain descriptions of certain characters’ acts from someone else’s mouth. The writers enter the territory of Ingmar Bergman in Persona (1966), because we try to visualize exactly what happens through words, and in that we question ourselves: I really wanted to have an image of it out of desire? The whole story is based on this.
Ema wishing to be with her son, Gastón wishing to control Ema, Ema wishing to be able to do things through her art and so on. The face of the film is that of rising star Mariana di Girolamo and her fascinating presence. Her looks are striking in itself but the way she uses her clothes as a counterpoint to constant internalization brings out one of the best interpretations of contemporary society. Still about Mariana, even in moments where she verbalizes; for example, what she thinks of a certain character she cannot externalize her reactions. However, it is in her actions that she shows to be a force of nature that represents an underestimated generation.
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In the supporting cast, Gael García Bernal is one of the most accurate models of the man who wants to be dominant in a relationship. Ranging from passive-aggressive to charmingly nervous – causing disgust and, surprisingly, some laughter. Also noteworthy is Paola Giannini. A symbol of discoveries and fantasies at the peak of life’s maturity. Citing once more Climax (2018), Sergio Armstrong’s photography is a fluctuation. It is sometimes restless – in the best sense of the word – for following a dance and walking movements, and fother moments more static when capturing emotions through vigorous close-ups. All packed with strong colors that when combined with shadows and silhouettes make the experience even more immersive.
The soundtrack is by Nicolas Jaar – and it’s only by watching the film that one understands the reason why his name is being so popularized in the promotion of the film, is a mix of meditative techno aesthetic. It is one of the best movie soundtracks of the last fifty years for not only being ably used but also because it is presented an extension of Ema’s personality with its peaks and declines (and mixed with the other sounds of the film, psychedelia takes shape). The versatility of Felipe Criado and Muriel Parra costumes is undeniable. There is an instant antithesis between one scene and another due to the most striking prints and the most basic colors. They adapt to the emotions of the characters very clearly and, in the case of Ema, they come together as a set that shows rebellion.
Ema (2019) is a sensually powerful portrait not only of modern Chile – putting its hand in the fire for the convictions, but also about the youth around the world revolting where their intelligence is often not paid attention to or is taken advantage of.