Published Feb 01, 2004Carl Bessai began his "identity trilogy" with Johnny in 1999, continued it with Lola in 2001 and completed it with this year's Emile. Keeping that in mind may help you wade through the un-pregnant pauses and campy hallucinatory scenes. Repeat: "It's all about identity, it's all about identity."
The distinguished Ian McKellen stars in this bleak, slow-going piece about an ex-pat professor who returns to Canada from England to claim an honorary doctorate and look in on the niece he abandoned a few decades earlier. Deborah Kara Unger plays Emile's now grown-up niece Nadia, whose daughter Maria (Theo Crane) bears an uncanny resemblance to the discarded Nadia in her youth.
Uncertain himself as to what he hopes to achieve through reconnecting with his niece and grandniece, returning to his home country does strange things to Emile most notably causing him to reminisce about his exodus via hallucinations. In them, he relives life on the family farm in Saskatchewan, his close bond with his artistic brother Freddy (Tygy Runyan) and his dislike for his overbearing brother Carl (Chris William Martin), Nadia's father.
In Emile, McKellen's finely-tuned stage presence plays awkwardly against the more subtle performances by Ungar and Ian Tracey (who plays Nadia's potential love interest). Runyan and Martin's performances are also less understated, but far more theatrical and self-conscious.
The primitive soundtrack, confusing flashbacks and puerile climactic hallucinatory scene do not translate as well onto film as they would have done for stage. And Victoria, in its grey season, plays a dreary backdrop to this lethargic piece.
However, the story itself becomes somewhat engaging as it progresses, as the reasoning behind Ungar's apathetic character becomes clear. And it is hard to resist the charm of the budding relationship between the reclusive Emile and his impish great-niece. (Seville)