2019 TIFF Movie Review: EMA (Chile 2019)

Ema Poster

A couple deals with the aftermath of an adoption that goes awry as their household falls apart.


Pablo Larraín

EMA and her husband have just ‘returned’ their adopted son after he, (the adopted son) set fire to to his aunt’s face and the house.  They apparently regret the decision and go to great lengths to find the boy again.  At the same time, their marriage is on the rocks.  They are both in the dance scene, the husband a choreographer and she in his troupe, so there is plenty of dance choreography.  EMA is a total mess and so is Larain’s film.  

The film makes little sense though it looks great courtesy of his D.P.  Larrain includes scenes of orgy when Ema begins indulging with multiple sex partners including her lawyer.  Larrain directed the Oscar nominated JACKIE.  That film has a perfect segment when the camera roams the White House with the song Camelot playing in the background.  

There is a similar segment in EMA with a catchy song played as the camera roams around.  But the film still ends up a boring and pretentious artistic waste of time.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/357724067


Film Review: JACKIE (USA/Chile/France 2016)

jackie_movie_posterDirector: Pablo Larraín
Writer: Noah Oppenheim
Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

Review by Gilbert Seah

Chilean director Pablo Larrain has made a name for himself with critical hit films like NO and TONY MANERO. But he is an odd choice for the English speaking film biography of the true American icon JACKIE, based on the life of Jackie Kennedy just after her husband, John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.

The story follows the events immediately following the assassination. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman) is being interviewed by a reporter, Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup) for Life Magazine. The film plunges the audience into the devastation using a series of finely crafted flashbacks that cover the fateful day in Dallas, Jackie’s return to the White House, arrangements for the President’s funeral, and her time spent accompanying her husband’s coffin to Arlington Cemetery.

The film is a slow count of what happens. It is the coping of a violent death of a loved one. The film is very American despite being directed by a non-American. The sequences complete a moving portrait of a grieving woman — a widow and mother struggling with overwhelming tragedy and attention. Yet the core of the film is formed by quiet, profoundly intimate moments: Jackie’s conversations with her children, her brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard, also at the Festival in The Magnificent Seven), one of her aides (Greta Gerwig), journalist White (Billy Crudup), and a Catholic priest (John Hurt). Larrain loves the close-ups of Jackie. The scenes between Jackie and the priest are done in a flashback within a flashback.

Portman does a fine job as Jackie Kennedy. She often looks aloof though she says that she is not and concerned about the children and the funeral procession. I don’t recall how the real Jackie spoke, but Portman always speaks with her mouth wide open, which I gather is the way the real Kennedy spoke.

For a non-American, the tasks offered to the former First Lady of restoring the artefacts of the White House may seem trivial. Jackie often moves around the different rooms drowning vodka or popping one of her colourful pills, always with a cigarette in one hand. She might not seem convincing when she says she cares so much for the children, but that is the way she was in real life during those times. Non-Americans might either find everything totally boring for incidents portrayed that do not concern them or be totally in awe of anyone being so involved in Americana.

One of the tasks Jackie was in charge of was looking after the White House. In the film’s best segment, an inspired one no doubt, Jackie is seen moving about the house, cigarette in one hand, popping pols, pouring drinks or arranging letters to the tune and lyrics of the song CAMELOT. Camelot, the perfect place to be is Jackie’s White House.

JACKIE emerges as a rare film about America as seen through the eyes of a foreigner. It is a queer piece which alternates between looking really artificial and surreal, but that might be Larrain’s intention.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZTXv5NpgaI


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Movie Review: THE CLUB (EL CLUB) (Chile) ***1/2

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the_club.jpgEL CLUB (Chile 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Pablo Larrain

Review by Gilbert Seah

Pablo Larrain’s (NO, TONY MANERO) latest film is a very different drama that is as absorbing as it is deadly slow-moving. The title of THE CLUB (EL CLUB) refers to an open prison for disgraced priests. The 4 priests and nun confined there in the seaside town of La Boca in Chile by the church are about to have their idyllic sojourn shaken to the ground.
EL CLUB is a very complex film, in a way similar to last year’s CALVARY starring Brendan Gleeson, a black comedy about a priest taking on the sins of a murderer. Both films coincidentally take place in a seaside setting.

The film begins innocently with a greyhound race that takes place in La Boca. The grey greyhound wins the race. It is slowly revealed that the animal is trained by a father who resides in the roomed building. There are three other priests who all place bets. It turns out that Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro), Father Ortega (Alejandro Goic), former army chaplain Father Silva (Jaime Vadell), and senile Father Ramirez (Alejandro Sieveking), disgraced priests are all dutifully tended to by a similarly “retired” nun, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers), who is apparently not that innocent. She is called a bitch by one of the fathers later on in the film.

Trouble brews when another disgraced priest, Father Lazcano (Jose Soza) is delivered to the house. He shoots himself after a young local fisherman, Sandokan (Roberto Farias), recognizes him. Sandokan, kind of a crazed bum, remembers the abuses he suffered as an altar boy at Lazcano’s hands and starts screaming the abuses outside the doorstep. Then the church dispatches Father Garcia (Marcelo Alonso), a crisis counsellor, to settle things. The priests come to believe, that Father Garcia’s intention is to close the house down.

The story turns into a horrid tale of survival. It is each man for himself, even for Sandokan and Father Garcia who is disliked and looked upon with suspicion by all.

Director Larrain is a great story teller always keeping the audience in anticipation with always a twist in the story around very corner. His camera work is meticulous, capturing the tranquility and imprisonment of the subjects despite the beautiful seaside setting. Violence is kept at a minimum, and mostly left to the imagination. He also keeps each priest as interesting as the other – each having their own individuality despite being there for the identical purpose.
One of the greatest pleasures of the film is the director’s use of Arvo Part’s music. I first heard the Estonian composer’s music, ‘Spiegel I’m Speigel’ when I first saw Gus Van Sant’s 2002 film, GERRY years back. Part known for his classical and religious music, he delivers a beautiful score that adds to both the serenity and eeriness of the film’s proceedings.

Whether the film ending is a happy one is arguable – best left to the audience to decide. But EL CLUB is a story that concerns many key issues – identity, beliefs, redemption, fulfilment but mostly forgiveness and how one can live with oneself after any terrible deed.

Also, Free logline submissions. The Writing Festival network averages over 95,000 unique visitors a day.
Great way to get your story out: http://www.wildsound.ca/logline.html

Deadlines to Submit your Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem to the festival:http://www.wildsound.ca

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com