Movie Review by Lisa Henshall
Starring: Ian McKellen, Deborah Kara Unger, Tygh Runyan, Chris William Martin, Ian Tracey
Director: Carl Bessai
A stylish but ultimately rather dry and unfulfilling drama, EMILE is about an old man’s return to his roots and the family he abandoned years ago.
Sir Ian McKellen, fresh from his recent turn as Gandalf in the fantastical THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, is keen to show us that he can also play realism with every inch of his acting prowess – as he did for decades before Peter Jackson found the wizardly role for him. Certainly McKellan’s performance is beautifully controlled and refined as the intellectual academic Emile at the centre of the story. His interaction with the other actors seems to bring out the best in them, and Theo Crane is a child actor to watch in the future – playing the initially reticent Maria, daughter of his niece Nadia (Deborah Kara Unger) as well as portraying the remembered image Emile has of his niece as a child during his own memories as flashbacks.
In fact, the flashbacks deserve a particular mention, as they are the standout element of this film. It is traditional for characters to be portrayed as they were at the time of the original incident being recalled, but here the director takes a completely different course that’s somewhat unnerving to start with. Bessai cleverly creates flashbacks where Emile is still an old man but interacting within his own memories where everyone else is young and as he remembered them when the events took place. His brothers are young and interact with him as if he were also young, but we can see that Emile is an old man and it helps to show that we reinterpret memories as we get older because we ourselves change over time.
Unfortunately, in between the flashbacks to the events of the past and the stilted present-day rekindling of his relationship with his grown-up niece whom he abandoned as a child, there are seemingly endless sequences of Emile wandering around mulling over his thoughts, wandering in fields running his hands through the wheat, etc and it all starts to feel a bit dull and over-emphasised. It picks up a bit at the end when he starts to interact with his grand-niece but by then it feels like it’s all over anyway. Perhaps if you are retirement age and considering spending more time with the family you haven’t seen for years, this could be the film to encourage you in the right direction, otherwise it just seems a bit tedious.