Ema – Review

Worth seeing: as a compelling but self-absorbed drama about a selfish, self-absorbed and unlikeable dancer
Director:Pablo Larraín
Featuring:Gael García Bernal, Mariana Di Girolamo, Giannina Fruttero, Josefina Fiebelkorn, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera
Length:107 minutes
Released:2nd May 2020, on Mubi


In the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and her choreographer husband Gaston (Gael García Bernal) have been having problems with their marriage since an adoption went wrong.

They ended up returning the boy, Polo, after he set fire to Ema’s sister – which prompted no end of recriminations; Who’s fault was it? Could it have been avoided? Was returning the boy the only option?

It’s clear that there’s still love in the marriage, but it’s buried deeply, beneath pain, bitterness and longing.

Ema decides she wants to try to get the boy back, but social services aren’t interested in her pleas. But Ema is not the kind of person to take “no” for an answer – not from her husband and not from social services.


The drama at the heart of Ema is a powerful tale of failure, regret, passion and deception.

The performances are faultless but the central character is selfish, self-absorbed and never likeable – we can empathise with her pain but very few viewers would accept the way she treats people or the things she’s prepared to do for her own ends – which makes it difficult to be rooting for her, and indeed, if it looks like she might get her way, you feel a little queasy.

Even set within a dance company, the film relies too much on dance for mood, expression and cinematic punctuation – routines are interspersed with the shouting – and copious sex scenes – to reduce or ratchet up tension where required.

The film is at once compelling and impenetrable – you can’t take your eyes off it but most of it doesn’t amount to what it thinks it does and the audience will find it tough to support the one person who seems to have the director on side.