Ema ★★★

"With this woman...I'll start a civilization."

'Ema' is rife with sex, scandal, fighting, arson and more - the film might not be consistently expressive or constantly visually stimulating, but it makes do with the subject at hand - an infighting couple grappling with their own issues and the loss of their adopted son, given up due to a violent incident at his hands - and the gorgeous Chilean backdrop is just as lively a character as Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) and Gaston (Gael Garcia Bernal) are, just as beautiful to admire and explore.

It's not an overly informative film - underlying plans are at play without description, and while you might be able to figure some out yourself, it's clear that the director only wishes to relay particular bits of information at certain times. In that sense, though, it's unpredictable - you're clearly watching events the aftermath of something serious unfolding, and it's not until you reach the end that you realize a master plot, ludicrous but satisfying, has been unfolding the entire time. It's very rewarding once the credits are rolling.

I'm not sure I necessarily clicked with the approach and style the film takes, where it feels like a familial crisis buried under a series of dance vignettes, all sexually charged and deliciously colored to add some spice and life to an otherwise cold, unforgiving drama. There are several themes of fire and flames throughout these moments, connecting with the incident that sets off the arguments and tension between Ema and Gaston regarding their adopted son, but it all feels a little forced, as if to make all the dancing and troupe scenes more justified. It's tough to take their trials and tribulations as seriously when an intimate shouting match sharply segues into loud, booming Chilean pop music or reggaeton atop an impromptu rooftop or public bus dance off. Having said that, they're still damn pretty to look at, and you feel that same intensity and passion in their movements that the dancers themselves speak of throughout.

Overall, though, while it may not have kept my interests the entire time, it's red hot when it's sultry and scheming and the ending payoff is worth it. That look of deception, betrayal, assault and more that each of the characters individually share to one another and to the camera makes it all worth it in the end. The performances are excellent, the dancing, while mostly irrelevant, is exciting and the cinematography makes every shot, no matter how simplistic or mundane, a portrait.