Decorated writer and director Pablo Larrain (Jackie, Neruda) constructs an unwieldy, bombastic, and deliciously dark masterpiece in Ema. The film has an undeniable rhythm: punctuated with electrifying dance sequences, anchored in a thumping, reggaeton-centric score, and filled with a wild abandon that is all at once exhilarating and frightening. Set in Valparaíso, Chile, the film focuses on Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gastón (Gael García Bernal). The intertwined artistry of the central couple – she a dancer and he a choreographer – is unraveled along with the story of their personal trauma. Begun when their adopted son Polo sets fire to their home and debilitates Ema’s sister, the catastrophe forces the couple further into anguish when they make the impossible decision to remove him from their family. Broken without him, the couple erupts in a blaze of guilt and blame. Ema, unwilling to relinquish her motherhood, begins a fiery but well-disguised campaign to reclaim what is hers, leaving only ashes in her wake. The haunting story is told with rich style and oozing sensuality, all emanating from a resolute female protagonist that leaks out of every mold she is asked to inhabit. Armed with a flamethrower, wounded by her shattered family, and portrayed with a rich and mysterious psychology Ema and Ema share a singular focus, a ruthless endeavor, and an unignorable impact. A complete redefinition of family, of mother, of dance, and of fire – this film is as delectable as it is disturbing.
– Ashley Hoyle