16 | Sight&Sound | May 2020
Who is she? The 29-year-old star of Pablo Larraín’s
unclassifiable Ema, providing spontaneity and
feral physicality in a difficult lead role. The film,
which premiered at Venice Film Festival last
year to positive reviews, is her first feature.
Her background: The actor is the daughter of
beloved Chilean star Claudia di Girolamo, and
studied theatre at the Catholic University of
Chile. She began her career in a series of Spanish-
language television comedies. Her second feature
film role, the dark comedy Harem, directed by
Leonardo Medel, was also released in 2019.
Her films: Larraín, usually more concerned with
the past, delves into new and contemporary
territory with Ema, the loosely-plotted story of
a failed adoption by two unlikely parents. Di
Girolamo and Gael García Bernal are a dancer/
choreographer couple who have decided to return
an adopted child after he displays pyromaniac
tendencies – just like his new mother.
Ema has since been declared an ‘unfit’ parent
and expresses her rage in a series of wild affairs
and equally discomfiting and beautiful dance
sequences, gorgeously choreographed against the
confectionary colours of the city of Valparaíso.
She decides she has to get her adopted child
back, and goes on an anarchic sex spree in order
to do so; she cannot be constrained by ideas of
likeability, monogamy, or proper motherhood.
Di Girolamo is a veritable whirling dervish in
the title role, eyes gleaming with manic energy
and yearning; her performance is unmissable.
Where to watch: Ema will be available
to stream on Mubi UK from 7 May.
Mariana di Girolamo in Pablo Larraín’s Ema
ILLUSTRATION BY LUCINDA ROGERS
The Fire Will Come director Oliver Laxe recalls a miraculous screening of
Ordet and explains why viewers must always watch films with their skin
The first time I
watched Carl Theodor
Dreyer’s Ordet 
was in Barcelona,
where I was finishing
university. Back then,
the Filmoteca de
Catalunya was located
in the most modern part of the city, in quite
a boring building with no personality, the old
cinema Aquitania. It didn’t matter, the screen
was big and the lights went off: that’s all you
need in order to travel/take off in a cinema.
There exists, undoubtedly, a mysterious and
indescribable relationship between an image
and the spectator, and that mystery most
profoundly reveals its essence within a cinema.
We could now get slightly esoteric and try to
give it an explanation, but we would always
remain far from the mystery. And that’s OK,
because the mystery has to stay a mystery.
What’s clear is that cinemas can arouse
something special within us; they can
transform us. There are images that seep
through and will accompany us for the rest
of our lives. The same thing that happens
to images watched at cinemas also occurs
between fire and skin when you get burnt.
Even if you’ve put the flame down, its
heat carries on burning and permeating
the different layers of your skin, invisibly
penetrating deeper and deeper, to our most
inner self. In fact, I always repeat the same
sentence at screenings: a human’s soul is
in the skin. I don’t know if this is the case or
not, but I did hear it from a slightly eccentric
monk. What I do always ask from viewers is
that they try to watch films with their skin.
Now, that day I came out of the cinema with
that film stuck to my skin, stunned. It couldn’t
be any other way. What a miracle of a film! I
left the cinema still astonished at Johannes’s
divine madness. (When I filmed Mimosas ,
Johannes was one of the inspirations for Shakib,
another wise fool who sheds light on things with
his insanity.) But when I came out of the film I
could hear shouting and police sirens, and saw
a lot of people walking in the same direction
along the avenue opposite the cinema. I began
following them; there were more and more
people. I turned the corner with them and was
faced with thousands of demonstrators crowded
together opposite a building, the headquarters
of the party in power in Spain at the time.
Two days earlier, on 11 March 2004, a
terrorist attack had killed 193 people after
10 simultaneous explosions took place
inside four trains in Madrid. People were
furiously demonstrating in response to the
government’s manipulation and distortion of
the information disclosed about the attacks,
because the elections were being held the
next day. The government had decided
to take Spain to war with Iraq against the
people’s will – 80 per cent of Spaniards
were against it – turning the country into
a target for pseudo-Islamist terrorism.
I was still inhabiting the film, or rather, the film
was still inhabiting me: I was there without being
there. I had come from having an exquisite time
contemplating eternity and was now faced with
actual radicalisation, the same one that tests us
and gets us ready for eternity itself. The tension
escalated and the police started charging
the people. I went home savouring the film’s
images. Against all predictions, the next day,
Spain’s government changed hands. I had just
watched my first film by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Translated by Mar Diestro-Dópido
FILMOTECA DE CATALUNYA, BARCELONA
MARIANA DI GIROLAMO
Cinemas can transform us.
There are images that seep
through and will accompany
us for the rest of our lives