Whether Dancing or Still, the Body in ‘Ema’ Tells the Story

Ema is the oddest of issues: a dancer with a ardour for setting issues on fireplace. In “Ema,” Pablo Larraín’s movie, the title character has a selected look, too: bleached hair slicked again so severely that it seems to be shellacked to her head. That coiffure, exhausting and impenetrable, is sort of a coat of armor, which is smart. Ema is product of ice. Until she dances.

Set in the coastal metropolis of Valparaíso in Chile, “Ema,” now in theaters and on Amazon and different digital platforms beginning Sept. 14, tells the story of a pair, an older choreographer and a youthful dancer — Gastón (Gael García Bernal) and Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) — who adopted however then deserted a Colombian boy named Polo. The motive they offer up the boy seems to have one thing to do with fireplace; he’s keen on it. It’s not exhausting to attract conclusions about who may need inspired him.

Ema is a member of her husband’s experimental dance firm, and it’s no secret that she has misplaced curiosity in it — and in him. Her obsession is reggaeton and its dance, which she relishes for its aggressive sensuality; exterior of the dance studio together with her pals, her physique is electrical as she lets her limbs fly and her hips shake. Gastón isn’t impressed. To him, reggaeton is music to take heed to in jail, “to forget about the bars you have in front of you.”

Their era hole is obvious as Gastón continues: “It’s a hypnotic rhythm that turns you into a fool. It’s an illusion of freedom.”

Moving like a unit: A scene from “Ema,” with choreography by José Vidal.Credit…Music Box Films

Is it? Who is Ema? She gave up her son, however appears to need him again. She’s a seductress who carries — and makes use of — her physique with steely, exact intention. While her inside world is a thriller, it’s clear what reggaeton permits her to really feel: free.

Dance is the key. But not like so many movies and tv collection of late, it isn’t a superficial layer tacked onto the story. In “Ema,” Larraín, the director of “Jackie” and the coming “Spencer,” has given dance, or motion, a number one position. It’s additionally a way to an finish that extends past standard choreography: How can dance carry Ema nearer to freedom? Whether she is alone or together with her pals — a collective physique transferring as one — her physicality spreads throughout each scene. And she doesn’t even should be transferring: Her inside vibrations are simply as lucid in stillness.

Because of that, the movie, with its dreamlike rating, is one thing of a dance, too — floating, gliding after which, swiftly, turning on a dime. “Ema” is an motion movie, however not in the standard sense: The physique is the motion. And whereas there may be dialogue, phrases add as much as lower than the deliberate pacing of every scene and the poetic energy of Di Girolamo’s body.

In a magnetic solo at the port, dusky mild envelops Di Girolamo’s silhouette as she stands together with her again to us and her legs broad aside. Her proper arm, bent at the elbow, is raised, her hand in a fist. Rocking her hips, she swings backward and forward as her arms open and shut. It is hypnotic, however she’s no idiot. She’s robust and tenacious; you sense the rigidity leaving her physique via her dance.

Di Girolamo in a dance scene at the port in “Ema.”Credit…Music Box Films

As she picks up the tempo, strolling with function and altering route, her again undulates and her angled arms carve via the air to an imaginary beat. Moments later, she’s on a carousel experience, however there are echoes of her dance: As she grips her horse’s pole, she sways, dipping backward and forward; she’s virtually relaxed.

Once she stops transferring, her expression modifications: Her thick brows body a stony face. She is catlike with the type of stare that makes you’re feeling invisible; at the identical time, she dances as in case you had been invisible. She’s past needing an viewers.

Di Girolamo isn’t a educated dancer, although she studied flamenco for a couple of months as a young person. Her mom determined she could be higher off doing that than being in remedy. “It was literally a therapy for me,” Di Girolamo stated in a latest Zoom interview. “It gave me the necessary tools to be empowered and to continue ahead.”

But she does love to bounce. (Her husband is a D.J.) In “Ema,” she had instruments to assist her physique acclimate to her character: One was the hair, which helped her to see Ema as an vitality — like the solar, like fireplace. “She’s very hypnotic, and in some ways she’s very dangerous or destructive,” Di Girolamo stated, “but you also want to be close to her.”

“She’s very hypnotic, and in some methods she’s very harmful or harmful,” Di Girolamo stated of Ema, “however you additionally wish to be near her.”Credit…Music Box Films

The different was her coaching. Di Girolamo labored carefully with the Chilean choreographer José Vidal, whose firm seems in the movie. Mónica Valenzuela was additionally a part of the choreographic workforce, and her focus had extra to do with the reggaeton moments. “I think Pablo wanted more of a nasty movement that I wasn’t apparently quite able to find,” Vidal stated with amusing, in an interview. “So she came to add some spice. It’s not like there is phrase one, phrase two — it is a mix of all of the materials.”

Vidal’s choreographic strategy concerned learning Di Girolamo’s mobility: the flexibility of her backbone, the vary of her arms. He then turned that right into a language. “More of a street dance, reggaeton sort of thing,” he stated. “But it never came directly from that. My intention was, OK, we’re going arrive there. But we’re going to arrive there coming from an inside place.”

The course of started with immersive work that helped Di Girolamo to “connect into herself, into her emotions, into her structure,” Vidal stated. “How does it feel to move here” — he patted his chest and swayed his shoulders — “and what connects you with each emotion? It was never about making her imitate or repeat something directly.”

Vidal on the set. To choreograph for Di Girolamo, he studied her mobility and turned it right into a language.Credit…through Fabula

Di Girolamo additionally needed to mix in with the skilled dancers in Vidal’s firm. The opening scene options an excerpt from his “Rito de Primavera,” impressed by “The Rite of Spring.” To dance in it, Di Girolamo studied ballet and Pilates. “I don’t have very good posture, so we worked on it,” she stated. “I had to understand the limits and the possibilities of my body.”

That led her to search out Ema’s physicality — her rhythmic, weighted stroll and the method she invades area each to intimidate and to get what she needs. “Dance was very important for me to understand how she seduces the other characters,” Di Girolamo stated. “It’s the tool she has, and she’s conscious about that tool.”

She spent quite a lot of time on the ground respiratory. Vidal known as it an initiation into the physique, into the motion. In addressing her posture, Vidal centered on opening her chest, which in flip paved the technique to displaying her tasting freedom, even being weak. There’s a motive the scene at the port feels so recent and spontaneous.

“I remember it was very cold, and Pablo said, ‘Mariana, now you have to improvise a dance scene,’” Di Girolama stated. “I was like, what? But I started dancing. I used the same steps of the choreography, but I deconstructed them. I’m not very good at improvisation, but if I have some tools, some things that I know, I can do something with it. I kind of deconstructed the choreography to make a new one.”

It wasn’t straightforward. “I was very nervous,” she stated. “It’s like singing. It’s a very personal thing. It’s like a window of our souls.”