The Truth About Emanuel hits VOD and the US iTunes store today and we loved it when we saw it back at Sundance UK earlier this year, where it went under the title Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes.
After giving Rooney Mara her first leading role in 2009’s Tanner Hall, writer-director Francesca Gregorini has cast a post-Skins Kaya Scodelario as the title character in a breakout big screen role that should get Hollywood’s top casting agents chasing her down for projects.
Emanuel’s mother died giving birth to her, and her daughter has been blaming herself ever since. A sullen, sassy teen who makes things especially hard on her father and stepmother when the sense of guilt rears up every year around her birthday, Emanuel is a girl who lives in her own world, unable to cope with the real one.
Young mother and new neighbour Linda is the mysterious woman next door who finally brings her out of her shell, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Emanuel’s own late mother. At first Emanuel’s offer to babysit is innocent enough, but she soon becomes complicit in Linda’s dark secret, and it turns out she’s not the only person in the neighbourhood with a frayed grip on reality, making every effort to avoid it.
This dark, adolescent fantasy, full of surrealistic dream sequences and small town oddity, is anchored in the anguish of the surrogate mother-daughter relationship at its heart. Gregorini perfectly pitches pain and poetry, exploring the loss of self that comes with being a mother and not having one. Brilliantly laying out the worldview of her prickly protagonist, she extracts first-rate performances from her two leads. As she did previously with Easy Virtue, Jessica Biel displays an impressive emotional range, proving once again that she’s much more than just a pretty face. Kaya Scodelario makes her mark on the big screen just as significantly as she did on the box, and in spite of overwhelming self-pity and regret, Emanuel is always relatable.
An elegant psychological investigation of the maternal instinct turned monstrous, The Truth About Emanuel is a terribly tender and chillingly compulsive cautionary tale.
Timothy E. RAW spoke to writer-director Francesca Gregorini about the film’s autobiographical inspirations before catching up with stars Kaya Scodelario and Aneurin Barnard on the Sundance UK red carpet to talk about being Brit actors abroad and working in the US. Both videos have been encoded at 720p to be viewed full screen.