Emile



             While it can stand on its own, EMILE is actually the penultimate entry in a trilogy of a
     thematically linked films directed by Carl Bessai, each of which addresses the question of identity.
     The protagonist of each film must come to grips with issues from his or her past that have shaped his
     or her life and that have had unalterable effects. It’s an issue that is universal in nature … I mean,
     who hasn’t at one time or other wondered “what if…” and questioned some of the decisions made
     in life.

             In a nod to Ingmar Berman’s classic
WILD STRAWBERRIES, EMILE centers on an
     aging professor (the always reliable Ian McKellen) who has been invited to return to his homeland
     (Canada) to receive an honorary degree. Estranged from his family, which consists of his niece
     Nadia (Deborah Kara Unger) and her ten-year-old daughter (Theo Crane), Emile uses the visit as
     an excuse to confront the past and attempt to heal the rifts of the present.

             Instead of having another actor portray the younger version of McKellen’s character,
     Bessai opts to have McKellen interact with the actors portraying his older brothers. The
     theatricality of this device is a nice touch, particularly as it has been realized by Bessai’s work
     as cinematographer. Past and present blend seamlessly and the audience is given a direct insight
      into Emile’s mind. Unfortunately, the scenes with his brothers, the abusive Carl (Chris William
     Martin) and the sensitive would-be writer Freddy (Tygh Runyan) don’t carry the emotional
     weight that the writer-director intends.

             What does work, though, are the trio of performances by McKellen, Unger and young
     Theo Crane. McKellen plumbs the depths of a man so intent on moving on and escaping what he
     perceived as a humdrum life at all costs, and delivers a fine performance. Unger matches him as
     his unhappy niece, a woman for whom trust is a precious commodity. Recovering from a failed
     marriage, she tentatively takes steps to change her life by letting her uncle in. Crane is also fine
     as her precocious daughter (and the young Nadia seen in flashbacks).

             
EMILE has some moments, but overall, there's a studied quality to the film that undermines
     its intent.


                                      Rating:                        C
                                      MPAA Rating:            R for language
                                      Running time:              92 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.