Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín never does the same thing twice, upending seemingly staid narrative concepts (the “historical drama,” the “biopic of a very famous person,” the “insightful look at a national crisis”) into fresh explorations of both humanity and cinema. His latest, “Ema,” seems poised to do the same thing, taking another well-trod idea (“a husband and wife deal with a family tragedy in very different ways”) and turning it into something very different (read: a dance film).
The new film reunites Larraín with his frequent collaborator Gael García Bernal, who previously worked with Larraín on “No” and “Neruda,” opposite Chilean actress Mariana Di Girolamo as the title character. The duo star as a married couple, he a choreographer and she a dancer, dealing with the fallout of a horrific incident perpetrated by their young adopted son. For Ema, that includes returning to her street dancing roots, though the trailer hints at a deeper meaning that goes beyond her need to physically express herself.
Last August, Larraín told IndieWire that he had conceived of the story as a meditation on family life. “I just want to put in crisis the idea of what a family really is nowadays,” he said at the time. “I think that idea has changed in a way that’s unique and surprising. There’s a new understanding of the family dynamic that I would like to deal with as a reflection of the contemporary world.”
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But despite the inherent dramatics of the storyline, the film is also very much rooted in the power of dance, and Larraín developed the dance scenes with local choreographer Jose Vidal. “It’s a way to transmit a message — it could be a political message, or a religious message, or a kind of vandalism,” he explained to IndieWire last year. “Instead of yelling, they go out and dance. They’re expressing themselves by leaving a trace on the city. It’s very visual.”
The film was written by Guillermo Calderón, Alejandro Moreno, and Larraín and produced by Fabula’s Juan de Dios Larraín.
“Ema” will premiere at the Venice Film Festival tomorrow, and will celebrate its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival the following week.
Check out the first trailer and poster for “Ema,” exclusively on IndieWire, below.