In 2016, Chilean writer-director Pablo Larrain directed “Jackie”, starring Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy. Later that fall, Larrain directs Kristen Stewart in “Spencer,” a biopic about Princess Diana.
Both films focus on famous women in the public eye who seemed bound by the roles given to them. Between these projects, Larrain produced “Ema”, on an unknown woman determined to free herself from her constraints, whatever the cost to herself or those around her.
“Ema” launches the fall Spotlight Cinema series at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Admission is free for museum members, $ 7 for all others. The film is also available on video on demand.
Mariana Di Girólamo plays Ema, a young dancer from Valparaiso, Chile, married to her choreographer husband Gastón (Gael Garcia Bernal). The film opens as the couple grapple with the consequences of a terrible decision they’ve made.
Ema and Gastón adopted a young boy, Polo, but found him terrifying, causing fires (one of which disfigured Ema’s sister) and torturing animals. Out of breath, they send Polo back to the adoption agency, a decision that horrifies their friends and family and makes Ema an outcast at the school where she teaches dance.
But instead of struggling with her grief and guilt, Ema tries to escape it, plunging into a world of hedonism and desire. She dyes her hair platinum blonde and embarks on a series of adventures with men and women. Larrain bathes her in purple, green and blue light, as if she had left this world to enter a strange new one. Ema even somehow secures a flamethrower and, in the dark of the night, begins to set things on fire around town. It’s like she has somehow inhaled Polo’s chaos and is breathing it into the world.