Awards Profile 2019: Pablo Larrain’s ‘Ema’ From Fabula Films

Welcome to the 2019 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you in the coming year (at least at this time of writing). The series analyzes the films and their awards season potential, most notably for the Academy Awards, based on the talents attached, filmmakers involved, and story and source material.  Monday through Friday until mid-May, AwardsCircuit will bring you a new and exciting project and discuss its chances for success. If you have a suggestion for a movie we should cover, include it in the comments section below. If you miss a film covered, click on the tag or category for “Awards Profile.”

FILM: “Ema”

DISTRIBUTOR: TBD
PRODUCERS: Pablo Larrain, Juan de Dios Larrain
DIRECTOR: Pablo Larrain
WRITER:
Guillermo Calderon, Alejandro Moreno
CAST:
Gael Garcia Bernal, Mariana Di Girolamo, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera
SYNOPSIS:
A couple, a choreographer and his wife, deal with the aftermath of an adoption gone awry as their household falls apart and the characters find ways to express their issues through interpretative dance such as reggaeton. 
SCHEDULED RELEASE: TBD (2019)

POTENTIAL HIGHLIGHTS:

Mexican directors may have won five of the last six Best Director Oscars, but Chile, as Mexicans say “is not singing bad country ballads either.” Chile beat Mexico to the podium by winning Best Foreign Language Film with “A Fantastic Woman” two years ago. And it has had a string of successes with the dual threat of directors Sebastian Leilo (“Gloria,” “A Fantastic Woman,”) and Pablo Larrain (“Neruda,” “Jackie,” “No”). So, now that the latter is working on his next Chilean project, the film entitled “Ema,” could Chile be headed back to Oscar glory so soon?

The little we know about “Ema” indicates realistic Oscar chances. It stars another recognizable star, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, as a choreographer. He and his wife, newcomer Mariana de Girolamo, face difficulties after an adoption gone awry. According to Larrain’s interview with IndieWire, the plot includes characters expressing themselves through interpretative dance. The film thus appears to check several boxes that could mean Oscar success, including name recognition, interesting story, respected director and actor and, presumably, the imprimatur of being Chile’s selection to the Academy Awards.

And, given Larrain’s relatively recent success at the Oscars–including that Best Actress nomination for Natalie Portman in the Jacqueline Kennedy biopic–it is not hard to see this movie doing well with the Academy. Indeed, the increasing international membership of the voting group suggests as much. As we have pointed out elsewhere, a whopping 24 nominations went to non-English films this past year. While “Roma” ultimately did not win the top prize, it did exceedingly well with the Academy and this movie will have a big name star in addition to a respected director.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES:

Though international directors, and Larrain himself, have found success of late at the Oscars, it is no guarantee. Larrain’s last Spanish language film, “Neruda,” failed to make any serious Oscar noise despite prestigious film festival showings like Telluride. “Ema,” if too quirky, could prove too much to the still majority, insular American Academy.

Moreover, the film does not have a distributor, does not have a 2019 fixed release date, and does not have any visible Oscar strategy or story. If it does make it in this year it could be too late both to qualify as Chile’s submission, but also to make a lot of headway beyond one or two categories. This happened to “Jackie,” which got picked up for distribution late in the game, after Toronto.

Finally, one has to wonder about the continued willingness or ability of voters to recognize films not in English. It seems like the film has to be universally hailed a masterpiece by critics and have a somewhat accessible story. Does “Ema” have those characteristics? It is, admittedly, hard to figure this out with so little information about the movie, but that uncertainty is, itself, a source of challenge.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture – Pablo Larrain and Juan de Dios Larrain
  • Director – Pablo Larrain
  • Actor – Gael Garcia Bernal
  • Actress – Mariana de Girolamo
  • Original Screenplay – Guillermo Calderon & Alejandro Moreno
  • Film Editing – Sebastian Sepulveda
  • Cinematography – Sergio Armstrong
  • Original Score – Nicolas Jaar
  • Foreign Language Film – Chile

What do you think of “Ema” as an Oscar Contender?
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