Reviewed by: David Haviland

Emile bears comparison with Mike Leigh's films. It's very slow, not much happens and yet its sensitive humanity draws you in.

Ian McKellen plays Emile, a bumbling professor, who travels to his native Canada to receive an honorary degree for his life's work; a life spent in exile in England.

On arrival, he stays with his niece, Nadia, and her daughter, and finds both brittle and unfriendly. Over time we learn why, as a series of flashbacks reveal his regrets for the mistakes of the past.

Emile is the final part of a thematically-linked trilogy from Carl Bessai and boasts impressive cinematography and well-crafted scenes.

One of the best of these comes early, when a clumsy gesture reveals Emile's non-committal relationship with his housekeeper-cum-partner and thus his innate cowardice.

Bessai's screenplay refreshingly avoids obvious exposition. As a result, the first half hour is slightly confusing, as we try to figure out Emile's relationships with the various characters.

McKellen gives a moving performance and yet his casting feels like a mistake. He is, after all, a definitive Englishman and, as such, an unconvincing Canadian.

He also plays the teenage Emile in flashback, which makes these scenes slightly ludicrous, as we're expected to pretend that McKellen is a burly teenage farmhand.

However, despite these flaws, the film has moving moments, thanks to a sensitive screenplay and excellent cast, with Deborah Kara Unger outstanding, as the defensive, vulnerable Nadia.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2004
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A professor returns home to Canada and tries to make amends with the family he deserted.
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Director: Carl Bessai

Writer: Carl Bessai

Starring: Ian McKellen, Deborah Kara Unger, Tygh Runyan, Chris William Martin, Ian Tracey, Janet Wright, Nancy Sivak, Theo Crane

Year: 2003

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/UK


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