Emile

Bergmanesque drama from Canada

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OPENS MAY 21, CERT 15, 95 MINS

Ian McKellen swaps Middle Earth for middlebrow with this earnest, well-crafted but dull Canadian feature. He plays Emile, a London-based academic who left his family in Canada 30 years ago to study in Britain. Returning for an honorary degree, Emile stays with estranged niece Nadia (Deborah Kara Unger) and her feisty teenage daughter.

The set-up?a professor reflecting on a life marked by regret and tragedy?is similar to Bergman’s masterly Wild Strawberries. But where that 1957 movie was genuinely poignant and elegiac, Carl Bessai’s film?which completes his self-styled “Identity” trilogy?is mannered and uninvolving. The honey-coloured flashbacks to Emile’s young adulthood on the Canadian prairies are stagey affairs, while the cloying depiction of his growing closeness to his niece is straight out of an advert for Werthers Originals.

Unger is on typically spirited form, but McKellen is unusually bland?as grey as the tatty cardigans his character sports.

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