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November 09, 2013

Starz Denver Film Festival 2013 - The Truth about Emanuel

truth about emanuel poster.jpg

Francesca Gregorini - 2013
Tribeca Film / Well Go USA Entertainment

In the first person narration that opens this film, Emanuel talks about how her mother died when she was born. She describes herself as ". . . just a girl. A murderer without a motive." There is a sustained, undeniable creepiness here, a kind of psychological horror story that goes in an unexpected direction before morphing into a story of shared grief between a mother and a daughter.

And while the name of Alfred Hitchcock does get bandied about too freely, I have the sense that there was some influence here with the small town setting, scenes of voyeurism, and the two side by side Victorian mansions where most of the film takes place. The high angle shots looking down the stairs in the the house of the next door neighbor, Linda, almost made me expect to see Martin Balsam show up to do some impromptu investigation.

Then there is the sound. Emanuel volunteers to babysit Linda's baby. With a baby monitor, Emanuel can just stay downstairs while the baby sleeps in her room upstairs. The rhythmical sound of the baby's breathing sounds a bit heavy, but it may just be electronic distortion at work here. Eventually that sound blends into the sound of waves. Add to that the water spilling out of the room, seen or maybe just imagined by Emanuel.

Rooney Mara was originally scheduled to play the role of Emanuel, but we have Kaya Scodelario, instead. And, yeah, she nails it as this film's rebel truly without a cause. Having dinner with her always well-intentioned father and step-mother, Emanuel's father comments on how she is less articulate at eighteen than she was as a young child. And the sense I get was that Emanuel is in a state of constant rebellion, even if she doesn't know why or what she is angry about. The film is about the various fictions created in order to avoid, or simply maneuver around, certain realities. Whatever Emanuel says either as a cover, or as a form of provocation, can be shrugged off when she allows herself to be Linda's co-conspirator. Later, it appears that Linda's fictions have entrapped Emanuel.

Given the basic premise, Gregorini is sympathetic to all of her characters. I think back to the many films, some well-intentioned, where the "craziness" of a female character is explained by a male authority figure, and put in its place, usually a metaphorical or literal institution. Gregorini will have none of that as her women free themselves.

Since seeing The Truth about Emanuel, I made a point of catching up on Gregorini's first film, Tanner Hall, written and directed with Tatiana von Furstenburg. There are some thematic and visual similarities, although Gregorini's first solo work is leaps ahead. Again there are the characters who find themselves trapped by what they thought would be a harmless lie. Also there is a shot of Rooney Mara carrying a cup of coffee. It has nothing to do with any narrative concerns but is something of a parody of Cary Grant carrying that glass of milk in Hitchcock's Suspicion. And again, like Hitchcock, Gregorini loves those high angled shots of stairways.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 9, 2013 07:44 AM