Fearlessly smart, honest and philosophical, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is the striking, sometimes breathtakingly beautiful second film from Italian-American writer-director Francesca Gregorini. It marries moments of sweeping surrealism with an earnest, credible exploration of female relationships.
Kaya Scodelario is Emanuel. A surly, strange-fish of a 17-year-old, she guiltily describes herself as her mother’s murderer and her death during childbirth as “the cost of doing business”. When bohemian single-mum Linda (Jessica Biel) moves across the road Emanuel is struck by the resemblance to her late mother and she’s quick to ingratiate herself to Linda, a fascination that further pushes out Emanuel’s slightly Stepford Wives-ey step-mother Janice (Frances O’Connor), as well as her father, played by Alfred Molina. As she passes through Linda’s art deco doors, Emanuel enters a world of fantasy. She becomes Linda’s conspirator, protector and the keeper of her tragic secret. The women are two interlocking pieces of a puzzle, each filling a void in the other’s life.
Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes deals with maternal longing and mental fragility with great insight and compassion. Biel was smart to “slum it” in this particular indie as she’s rewarded with perhaps her first truly interesting role and the film suggests big-screen stardom for the formidably talented Scodelario. Gregorini has spoken about the deeply personal subject matter and, indeed this is a film that painfully, unashamedly, sometimes even awkwardly comes from the heart – it’s all the richer for it.