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Woman on fire: Larrain's 'Ema' tells tale of liberation

Hanna Rantala

Reuters

Venice, Italy  /  Mon, September 2, 2019  /  09:06 am

Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, Chilean actress Mariana Di Girolamo and Chilean director Pablo Larrain arrive for the screening of the film 'Ema' on August 31, 2019 presented in competition during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. (AFP/Vincenzo Pinto)

To the thumping beat of reggaeton, Chilean television actress Mariana Di Girolamo dances her way through Pablo Larrain's Ema, her major film debut about a woman on a journey of self-discovery as her family life falls apart.

Set in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, Di Girolama and Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal play married couple Ema and Gaston, a dancer and choreographer in an experimental dance troupe.

After their adopted son Polo is involved in a fire incident that injures Ema's sister, the couple give the child back, a decision that heavily impacts them personally and their marriage.

A regretful Ema tries to find ways to get Polo back, while at the same time liberating herself from her domineering husband. Viewers also see her destructive side as she goes about town setting fire to traffic lights, cars and playgrounds with a flamethrower.

"A key theme is family, the new families, the new order, the families of our times that are different, same-sex families or multi-parent families," Di Girolamo told Reuters in an interview.

"It reflects on what is happening today. As a symbolic element, the fire is important in the film, as an element of destruction and creation, it also reflects who Ema is."

Garcia Bernal, known for The Motorcycle Diaries and Mozart in the Jungle, said the movie also touches on "the crisis of masculinity".

"Also the new kind of pathways to a much more responsible upbringing of kids ... It's an experimental way of doing it. I think it reflects a lot (on the) sign of (our) times," he said.

Read also: Venice Film Festival director, jury head disagree on gender quotas

The film is one of 21 competing for the Golden Lion prize at the Venice Film Festival, which runs until Sept. 7.

"I'm a little nervous and very grateful and expectant, I want to enjoy every moment," Di Girolamo said.

"It's also my first time in a leading role in a movie. I come from the world of television series, soap operas in Chile. I've had some smaller roles in films. So this is like my grand debut which is a bit strange."

The film is Santiago-born Larrain's first since 2016's Jackie about Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband’s assassination.

At a news conference, he described Ema as "a sister, a friend, a daughter, a mother, a lover, a wife and a dancer. She is the sun and everyone circulates around the sun ... and if you get too close you might get burnt."

Larrain said he also wanted to shine a light on failed adoptions.

"The reality of failed adoptions is very huge and it's a trauma and a drama that we wanted to address in the way that the movie shows it," he said. 

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