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Fever Dreams: How Pablo Larraín Invents a Whole New Filmic Structure With “Ema”

“The film isn’t a closed-off piece; it allows for a space, a crack through which the spectator can enter and exit.”

Ema is now streaming on Mubi. 

Described by Dazed as “a sexual dance epic with flamethrowers” and directed by Pablo Larraín (No, Jackie), Chilean film Ema follows the eponymous dancer’s journey through art, marriage and family.

“Pablo Larraín’s Ema doesn’t always dance to a clear or recognizable beat,” writes David Ehrlich, “but anybody willing to get on its wavelength will be rewarded with one of the year’s most dynamic and electrifying films.” To read the full review, click here.

Dazed compares the movie’s structure to that of a remix, a “jigsaw editing style” that “darts back and forth within scenes, as if emulating memories, traumas, and fantasies.”

Mariana DiGirolamo appears in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín

Larraín affirms the psychological motive behind such an approach: “You’re more into the characters. The scenes continue the narrative, the dialogue, and the action—but the space changes. There’s a crisis in between the narrative and the space. That crisis creates something I consider quite beautiful.”

An organic production process in Chile involved writing the script during the shoot itself, with actors often receiving script pages on the day of filming them. “That uncertainty is similar to life,” Larraín explains in Dazed. “I have no idea what’s going to happen to any of us in a couple of hours, or even tomorrow, and I like to share that uncertainty with the actors.”

“[Ema] is like a labyrinth where you don’t exactly understand everything,” says Larraín in NME. “But it’s hypnotic somehow, so you follow it without really understanding, and you get to connect the dots [by the end]. And when you do, when you get to know what it is, what you saw, what they were doing, the movie opens up and restarts again. I like to have the audience processing the movie at the same time as the filmmaker.”

Mariana DiGirolamo appears in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín

Read more: Pablo Larraín on Ema, a Sexual Dance Epic With Flamethrowers

“Reality is such a strange convention,” Larraín muses in The Notebook. “It isn’t what it used to be, right? A movie can sometimes play with that and create a reflection of that reality, one that is usually broken and a substitution, which is often dangerous. And that’s what we wanted to explore—the illusion of reality that creates all kinds of emotional responses, whether it’s about love, parenthood, or friendship.” To read the full interview, click here.

An uncertain reaction followed Ema’s first screening, Larraín recalls: “We were really confident of the narrative, and we invited friends, film directors, editors. They walked out of the screening room, very close people that I love, and said, ‘We don’t understand anything!’

“I realized it was too complex. We had to make things a little bit more transparent. The audience needed to be able to follow it [more easily], without betraying the nature of the movie.”

Mariana DiGirolamo appears in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín
Mariana DiGirolamo appears in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín

Read more: Jackie Director Pablo Larraín: “Cinema is Always a Political Act”

Also filling this space is Nicolás Jaar’s pulsating music, mostly recorded before principle photography started based on a brief plot synopsis. “We adapted the tone and mood of the filmmaking to Nicolás’s music,” Larraín explains in Dazed. “It’s usually the other way around, right? I’d play his music to inspire the set and actors. Then once we had the movie, he worked on top of it.”

While the inability to see the film in theaters threatens to diminish its impact, Larraín is grateful for the digital release of a film he thought may never see the light of day. “With the streaming system, you know the movie will eventually find its audience, which is great news for filmmakers,” he tells NME.

Mariana DiGirolamo appears in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín

“I have no idea what the spectator will take away from the film,” Larraín admits, “because the film isn’t a closed-off piece; it allows for a space, a crack through which the spectator can enter and exit so that each person can provide closure to it from his or her own biography. For each person, Ema will be a different film.”

Mariana DiGirolamo and Gael García Bernal appear in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín
Mariana DiGirolamo and Gael García Bernal appear in “Ema,” directed by Pablo Larraín

 

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