Emile is the sort of prototypical movie that one expects from a made-in-Canada production; ie there’s not much of a plot to speak of, and characters spend a lot of time examining their own lives. But despite long passages of dullness, the film generally works primarily because of Ian McKellen’s fantastic lead performance. McKellen stars as Emile, a retired professor returning to his birthplace of Canada to accept an honorary degree. His niece, Nadia (Deborah Kara Unger), offers to let him stay at her house – along with her daughter, Maria. Storywise, that’s about it. Emile’s plagued by the ghosts of his childhood, including his relationship with his two brothers, and spends an awful lot of time wandering through his memories (McKellen plays his younger self, which is more than a little jarring). It’s those flashbacks that prove to be the film’s undoing, as their every appearance takes the viewer out of the story and completely interrupts any flow the movie had going for it. Emile finally picks up towards the end, as McKellen’s character begins to form a bond with Maria (and, by association, Nadia), but it’s too little too late by then. Bessai clearly has talent – he’s got a keen eye for what looks good on screen – but his attempts to turn Emile into a story about redemption and forgiveness fall flat. Still, the acting (particularly by McKellen, who leaves all traces of Magneto and Gandalf firmly behind him) makes this worth a look for the curious, but really, this would’ve been far more effective as a short.
**1/2 out of ****