Reggaeton dancer Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) is in a tumultuous relationship with her choreographer/husband Gaston (Gael García Bernal). The two seem hellbent at destroying their relationship, throwing verbal jabs at each other and pouring salt on emotional wounds. Their adopted son Polo (Cristián Suárez) has been taken away for his destructive behavior and rehomed with a new family. Ema is desperate to get Polo back and will go to great lengths, including targeting the two new parents, to get him back. She embarks on a journey of self-discovery and destruction in order to fulfill her deepest desires.
“Ema, you’re going to battle.”
Director Pablo Larraín’s erotically charged Ema sets the screen ablaze with its magnetic star Mariana Di Girolamo. Her unique look, donning bleach blonde shellacked hair and a piercing gaze, is mesmerizing and you can’t help but fall for her like the other characters do in her story. There are some heavy themes including toxic relationships, parenthood, polyamory, self-destruction, sadism and pyromania. Scenes are intercut with dance sequences that feel seamless.
It’s difficult to understand why some of the characters, particularly Gaston, are so hard on Ema. And at one point I was getting We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) vibes but Polo’s mental health struggles are not at all explored. I wish Ema’s story came with more background and context but that might have taken away from her mystery and charm.
TW: Depictions of fire and the aftermath of a serious burn. This film premiered at TIFF a couple years ago and while I wanted to watch it then I recently had burned my leg and couldn’t deal with any imagery of a burn victim (Ema’s sister after an accident) and fire (Ema sets objects on fire with a flamethrower). I’m glad I waited as I was much more prepared to watch the film this time around.
“Ema is a paradigm: she’s a character of characters. Daughter, mother,sister, wife, lover and leader. She’s very powerful and presents astriking, beautiful sort of femininity. She’s motivated by relentlessindividualism, as she clearly knows what she wants and is capableof seducing those around her in order to line up her destiny. Shewants to be a mother and have afamily; perhaps what moves and motivates her the most is love.“
Music Box Films will be releasing Ema on digital and VOD on September 14th. Visit the official website for more information.
“I want to become a dancer… I will become a dancer.”
Have you ever felt that life was just a series of roadblocks getting in the way of your most cherished dream? For Yume (Bambi Naka), the road to becoming a dancer is littered with obstacles and disappointments. Despite her father’s disapproval, Yume leaves her small town and ventures to Tokyo where she’s determined to make it as a professional dancer. Yume takes a free hip-hop class at a local dance studio and is immediately hooked. To pay for her micro apartment, her expenses and her dance classes, Yume becomes a costume hostess. With her job and other hustles she pursues along the way, the threat of crossing over to sex work and getting away from the dance world lingers. Yume perseveres, taking classes, entering competitions and participating in auditions. With each new venture comes plaguing self-doubt and a heaping dose of bad luck but some new friends are there to give her the emotional boost she needs.
Written and directed by Philippe McKie, Dreams on Fire pulsates with life and sheer joy despite the major hurdles the protagonist faces. Bambi Naka leads this coming-of-age story with passion and grace. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this intense of an emotional bond with a fictional character. This speaks to the brilliant story and its charismatic star. There are plenty of dance numbers, shots of Tokyo streets and extreme angles that showcase the city skyline which add visual delights to this already endearing film. A must watch.
Dreams on Fire had its North American premiere at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Visit the film’s official website for more information.
“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.”
In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.
“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen
In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.
“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles
The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.
As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?
Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.
Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.
Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.