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  • Rebecca Lerner

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A review of EMMA. (2020, directed by Autumn De Wilde)


Emma, in all its iterations, is a story of redemption. The narrative hinges on the fact that even the most beautiful and clever of us make mistakes and sometimes can't read the room. The most recent adaptation, EMMA. explores a quintessential paradox of growing up — that to be truly smart and curious, you must first accept that there are whole worlds out there you don't know the first thing about.


The eponymous Emma is played by Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), introduced to the audience as a "handsome, clever and rich" 21-year-old. She's fascinated by relationships and loves to meddle in the love affairs of those around, but won't put her heart at stake by getting emotionally involved. When a new friend Harriet almost marries below her potential, Emma takes it upon herself to find the perfect match for her — despite her own entanglements with the various men she's trying to set her up with.


EMMA., differentiating itself from its Austen ancestry with a period imprinted in the title, is the directorial debut of Autumn De Wilde. It's a highly stylized, borderline twee vision that may incite comparisons to Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but in the deliberate creation of EMMA., De Wilde proves herself to be in a class all her own. (For the record, the first directorial exposure I ever had to De Wilde was this Keaton Henson video, starring her daughter Arrow, which premiered on Rookie Magazine.)


The costuming of the film leans heavily on pastels and bright shades of pinks, yellows and oranges. The decadent dresses differentiate the characters throughout various arcs. As the wealthiest woman in town, Emma is always decked out in simple yet opulent frocks adorned with subtle details of embroidery and lace. The rooms of the film's main setting, Emma's home Hartfield, each seem more vibrant than the next. The Georgian house serves as the perfect location for Emma as she uses her home-court advantage to scheme and try to play the puppet-master of the village's social scene.


I often think of this period as threadbare, cold and pale. It's hard for me to imagine a social scene without central heating or frequent showers. But movies like EMMA. remind me that the human obsession with love prevails against any current circumstances, that there is always vibrancy in the world if we look for it.


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