EMILIA PÉREZ: Love First, Shoot Later [REVIEW]

In the film “Emilia Pérez,” Jacques Audiard restores faith in the contemporary musical. Simply something beautiful.

Jan Tracz

24 May 2024

Zoe Saldaña in an Oscar-worthy role in an eclectic musical that blends romance, dance, song, gangster life, Mexican cartels, telenovela, melodrama, and genuine passion. After watching, we feel grateful that such films are even made.

“Emilia Pérez” has class. In his latest film, Jacques Audiard doesn’t try to redefine the genre, doesn’t desperately play the predestined auteur (which he already is), and doesn’t draw from pretentious concepts (read: let’s have a minute of silence for the dreadfully mediocre “Annette” from 2021). His style navigates the waters of simplicity and cinematic competence. Even if the idea of a queer musical with a gender transition theme doesn’t sound like something that would primarily sell in Polish cinemas, I dare say that in a perfect world, anything can happen. If only viewers open their hearts.

Audiard tells the story of a dangerous gangster who hires a talented lawyer, Rita (Zoe Saldaña), for temporary protection. To escape gang wars, Manitas opts for radical measures: a gender transition operation. Becoming Emilia Pérez (played wonderfully and charismatically by Karla Sofía Gascón) is the only way for Manitas to start a new chapter in life. Our Mexican bandit seeks redemption by founding an organization that searches for the bodies of once-murdered, innocent people, who were likely victims of the gangster himself. It’s a full-fledged redemption arc! And, of course, the characters sing about their experiences in exciting musical numbers. These musical pieces represent the pinnacle of contemporary musical theatre in terms of staging and arrangement.

“¡Ay, caramba!” we might exclaim during the more extreme scenes, reminding us that gangster life is not just filmic mythomania with an overdose of romanticizing. At some point, Emilia Pérez takes off and doesn’t look back. When we finally get used to our heroines and feel increasingly comfortable in their company, we begin to realize that this utopian paradise cannot last forever. Emilia’s past demons will inevitably catch up with her. Hidden lies will come to light, and our charismatic heroine will face tough choices. Will she finally reckon with her sins and reveal all her secrets to her loved ones?

Oscar Predictions: Emilia Pérez – All My Life… I Wanted To Be A Blogster

First love, then shoot, Audiard seems to tell us in this depicted world. Otherwise, you don’t know if some love confessions might come too late, if a bullet from a loaded gun fires first, or if the Mexican cartel plots a meticulous revenge. And that’s what this fairytale, maybe even mythical story, is about. About the mistakes we make, but also about forgiveness, even when (perhaps) it’s not too late yet. Using the power of music, “Emilia Pérez” focuses on emotional truisms. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but sometimes such simple clichés are more powerful than a thousand poetic words. And there’s nothing wrong with that if such a convention easily reaches our hearts and fills them with Latin warmth.

It’s also worth noting the citizenship of the creator himself. The fact that a French director and screenwriter decided to delve into the cartel purgatory of Mexico seems culturally somewhat puzzling. However, Audiard managed not only to approach the contemporary problems of this country with understanding, doing so in a very accessible way, but also his style, combined with music and dance, becomes an inherently liberating experience. Audiard and musical Mexico is a marriage that would have been unthinkable for contemporary film scholars. And yet, in this explosive mix, there’s a method that captivates viewers with its vision. The musical elements are in place, and each song enhances the emotional impact while thoughtfully advancing the plot.

Don’t be misled by the misleading promotion involving Selena Gomez, whose role in the film is minimal compared to the other actresses. This is a musical with a clear sense of identity from start to finish. Electric entertainment intertwines with social themes, giving us a musical showcase deeply rooted in the soulful culture of dangerous Mexico. We see and feel the extravagance at every turn, but what does it matter when it’s a first-rate show? We wander through the enchanted realms of Mexico, searching for our own identities, barely believing the fantastic musical we unexpectedly encounter.

Jan Tracz

Jan Tracz

A journalist with four years of experience in the cultural industry (film, music, literature, politics). Writer for respected Polish and English sites and magazines, interviewed most famous stars, writers, actors, talents, directors and musicians (incl. Alejandro González Iñárritu, Lasse Hallström, Matthew Lewis, David Thomson, Richard Dyer, Rachel Shenton, Tom Wlaschiha, Lena Olin, Jenna Elfman, Lennie James, Yannick Bisson, Ximena Lamadrid, Malcolm Storry, Alexandra Savior). Current Film Studies MA student at King's College London.

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