In the "Love at First Sight" Department, it’s been twelve years since the Latino Film Festival introduced me to Pablo Larrain via his second feature Tony Manero, a picture I never tire of watching and championing. This year Larrain acquaints audiences with Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo), the reggaeton sensation with the Shinola mane drawn so tightly across her crown one could use her skull to keep the beat. Ema, like her driven cinematic Uncle Tony, wants to hold her family together in the worst way, which is precisely how she goes about doing it. Time away from rehearsing for her husband/choreographer’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) latest dance ensemble finds Ema drilling solo before a dusky CinemaScope cityscape, practicing the flamethrower — we open memorably on a smoldering stoplight — partaking in indiscriminate sex, and doing her best to convince CPS that she was wrong for returning Polo (Cristian Suarez), her 7-year-old adopted son of one year, to the orphanage simply for torching his aunt’s face. (The lad does take after his mother.) Once again we have Larrain to thank for sticking his arm down the throat of convention and delivering a rigorously everted melodrama. Films that individualize feelings of abandonment generally associated with the subject of adoption are usually told through the eyes of a child, not exclusively from the viewpoint of the fostering parents. (Polo isn’t seen until halfway into the picture; I can’t recall the boy saying a word.) Nor would a CPS agent stop and deliver a stunning dressing down to both overly absorbed parents. And what better way than in bed (and one at a time) for Ema to get to know Polo’s replacement parents? Di Girolamo delivers as frank and assured a debut performance as any we’ve seen in ages, but I’d be loath to recommend Ema to those expecting something along the lines of Larrain’s Jackie. The best picture of 2019 is currently available for download at the Digital Gym Virtual Cinema. (2019) — Scott Marks

Rated R | 1 hour, 47 minutes
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