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