DRAMA; 1hr 37min (Spanish with subtitles)

STARRING: Mariana Di Girólamo, Gael García Bernal

Meet the parents: Di Girólamo and Bernal

Dreamlike and oblique, director Pablo Larraín’s deconstruction of the ripple effect of an adoption gone horribly wrong comes together at the start in non-linear episodes that take shape as a map of disaster. Morose Chilean reggaeton dancer-slash-pyromaniac Ema (Di Girólamo) and her joyless choreographer husband, Gastón (Bernal), have adopted a 12-year-old boy with ruinous consequences and must now attempt to live with the mess they created by sending him back to be rehomed.


They do this in part by insulting each other with unnerving efficiency. (“Infertile pig… Human condom,” she coolly remarks. “You’re unbearable,” he informs her, giving as good as he gets.) It’s a relief when Ema ups, leaves and files for divorce, although she and the navel-gazing Gastón are hardly cut out for contentment.


Depending on your cinematic preferences, the artistic intensity of Ema’s blazing — literally — trail of self-discovery is either a fascinating psychological analysis of personal liberation at any cost, the sexual overindulgence of a manipulative narcissist or a sizzling mix of the two. Whichever way you slice her evolution, Larraín (Jackie) is an artist who paints with atmosphere. Whether through the primal thrall of dance, the composition of a contemplative shot, the evocative lens of toned-down lighting or the seductive pull of fire, it’s in the telling that his greatest gift lies.