Rating 4/5 Francesca Gregorini’s debut solo feature is an accomplished coming of age movie, exploring the effects of grief and how salvation can sometimes be found in the most unusual of situations. Dancing with both despair and hope, Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes takes on difficult subject matters with a determined yet delicate touch, and comes out swimmingly.
The plot centres around 17 year old Emanuel (Kaya Scodelario) a bright yet troubled girl severely affected by the death of her mother during childbirth, which she feels responsible for. Living with her father (Alfred Molina) and newly acquired step mum (Frances O’Conner) she expresses her numbness to the world, using deadpan sarcasm to alienate almost everyone she meets, that is until Linda (Jessica Biel) moves in next door. Spurred by her subconscious yearning to belong and drawn in by Linda’s resemblance to her mother, Emanuel offers her services as babysitter to her neighbour’s newborn and from there the two forge a strong bond. At first it seems Linda’s warmth could heal Emanuel, however it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems and a devastating revelation threatens to shatter their fragile world as fantasy and reality entwine, setting then on a surreal course seemingly destined for heartbreak.
The supporting cast does well and Molina puts in a good turn as Emauel’s father, a man struggling with the consequences that loss has had on his family, however it is the two female leads which really anchor the film. Scodelario (best known for her role as Effy in Skins) shines as tortured soul Emanuel with an emotive presence that evokes hope even if you cannot fully understand her behaviour, whilst an ethereal Biel gives one of her best performances yet, taking a welcome break from her the romantic lead roles and reminding us of her talents as a dramatic actress.
The chemistry between the two gives a tenderness uncommon in modern cinema, where females are often pitted against each other, and with ‘Emanuel’ Gregorini has created a truly feminine environment that implores you to emotionally invest in these characters, but bear in mind that this strictly female world might prove difficult for some to access.
The soundtrack was a particular highlight, whilst visually it is clear that every aspect of the set has been detailed to reflect the tone of the story, there is some beautiful scenery and use of colour is spectacular. Emanuel tampers with numerous themes, with elements of drama, thriller, and wonderfully dark humour, although there is an ambiguity to the ending which may leave viewers wanting further closure. Furthermore the script occasionally slips close to being clichéd, however this can be forgiven as the powerful performances, bold visuals and engaging story will already have you hooked.