Gabriel Ortega Hernandez’s “Emelina” is a dream-like cinematic experience that intertwines fiction and reality within 67 minutes of breathtaking cinematography, captivating scenery and vivid narration. The somewhat fantastical story of the film is recounted in second-person perspective, making it a perfect mix between the postmodern Italo Calvino and the magical realist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What at first seems like a fragmented mosaic of disparate lists is expertly weaved into a cohesive narrative that is simultaneously self-aware and poetic.
The film is centered on two travelers, Adela and Jorge. At first, the narration focuses on Adela’s perspective, but it shifts to Jorge as he relates his experiences in the fictional city of Emelina. Emelina looks like any other city; there are signs and parks and crosswalks and tall buildings. Yet, Emelina feels more like a lucid dream than a present reality. Jorge falls asleep one place and wakes up in another. Hernandez takes footage from urban and rural landscapes to create a fictional land from real places –– a painterly spectacle of wanderlust and wistfulness.
The city is both familiar and foreign. Jorge, a character taken on by a number of actors throughout production, is lost within the clutches of Emelina. He finds himself only through exploration and interaction with the city, an expedition into the self as reflected by the overwhelming skyline of Emelina. Through Jorge’s eyes, Emelina is an unanswered question, therefore its existence remains a mystery to the audience. After Jorge’s description of Emelina, the narrator goes on to tell a sequence of events focused on what Jorge forgot to say about Emelina. This blatant self-awareness is reminiscent of something out of the mind of Spike Jonze, turning even more meta with every frame.
While the film highlights the beauty of the journey, it also provides an insightful critique on urbanization and abuse of surveillance by the government. Emelina is both a paradise and a prison — to escape is harder than it seems.
Emelina communicates habitat in connection to humans in the 21st Century, not the clichéd 4th Grade science fair diorama with which we so often associate the word. Emelina’s habitat refers to the places we occupy, the spaces we find comfort in and the way we learn to define “home.”
“Emelina” is a visually stunning, innovative approach to storytelling through film. The film itself is bursting with creative energy and lyrical intrigue. Hernandez creatively captures the mystery of Emelina, leaving the audience craving more. “Emelina” feels like a dream within reality while offering a refreshing new take on the tasteful cocktail of fiction and fantasy.