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Emile (2003)

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In a story weaving the past and present together, Emile seeks redemption from the family he abandoned.



1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Nadia / Nadia's Mother
Theo Crane ...
Maria / Nadia (age 10)
Janet Wright ...
Nancy Sivak ...
Frank Borg ...
Taxi Driver


As a young man, Emile left his Saskatchewan farm life behind to head to university in Britain, with his brothers, the older brusque and controlling Carl and the younger sensitive Freddy, left to run the family farm. This move was despite Freddy showing greater potential and thus probably benefiting more from academic life. However, Carl wouldn't allow Freddy to leave because of his mechanical expertise which was required to tend to the farm equipment. Emile vowed to return, but never did, which affected Freddy the most. Now in early retirement, Emile, still living in Britain, travels to Victoria, Canada to accept an honorary degree from the university there. In Victoria, he decides to stay with now deceased Carl's grown daughter Nadia, and Nadia's ten year old daughter Maria. Emile had never made any attempt over the years to connect with Nadia or Maria, who only really know him by name. On the surface to Nadia, Emile's visit is purely a need on his part for a free bed while in ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »


Official Sites:




Release Date:

9 January 2004 (Canada)  »

Also Known As:

Finding the Past  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


CAD 3,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The house that belonged to Nadia was "haunted" and weird things kept happening during the shoot. See more »


The film was shot in British Columbia but some parts of the action are set in Saskatchewan. In one Saskatchewan scene, there are mountains on the horizon. There are no mountains in (or visible from) Saskatchewan. See more »

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User Reviews

Appealing and endearing character drama, that is underplayed in comparison for what passes an a contemporary North American indie, but played honestly and fruitfully.
27 June 2011 | by (Hampshire, England) – See all my reviews

Emile is a Canadian independent film which, unlike some of its more recent American counterparts, isn't afraid of exploring bare-boned, delicate territory without either constructing portraits of its characters as total freaks or necessarily feeling the need to deceptively 'mainstreamise' its overall content with generally offbeat material and off-colour, idiosyncratic dialogues. Sure, they touch on some rather delicate topics, ranging from unanticipated pregnancy to various mental illnesses to those fond of sadomasochism, but rarely do we feel as if the characters in projects such as Juno or Secretary actually exist – they are fanciful excursions into realms populated by those we are wary of rather than sympathetic of, and more often than not carry with them excess levels of vanity. In Carl Bessai's 2004 film Emile, we feel as if we could live down the street from them; his film is one of which explores a man and the results that came about after his decision, during young-adulthood, to put himself before others, regardless of the riches that decision had him end up with, before returning to the locale of his young-adulthood years and piecing together the second generation of his family's situation that has been brought about because of this.

The film covers that of the titular Emile, played extraordinarily by British actor Ian McKellen; a performance full of nuance and delicacy, a performance seemingly lost amidst the bigger budgeted, larger distributed Lord of the Rings and X-Men sequels of the same year in which he additionally starred, but a performance fraught with authenticity and affluence as he comes to integrate with varying supporting acts of differing ages; genders and apparent class backgrounds. Indeed, the film will open on the England based, but Canadian born, author of later on in years Emile; the aftermath of a speech at a large function seeing him very much the centre of attention and seemingly at the peak of his proverbial academia-imbued game. The camera decides to track in on Emile, in a wavy and distorted manner, as if cause for concern was required amidst the rapturous applause and success story that is this man: the film's eventual framework alluded to as here, as the bearing in on the surface qualities of a man and into something more troubled, plays out.

Through one means or another, Emile winds up back in Canada again; the receiving of an honorary degree from an institute in his home province of Saskatchewan the catalyst from the outside forcing him back to his roots, allowing apparent issue and such to be buried. It's here the character of Nadia, Emile's niece, enters proceedings; someone brought to life by that of Canadian actress Deborah Kara Unger, whose general facial expression in whatever film she's in always seems to epitomise that of anguish or one that is wrought with the weight of the world. She has certain things on her shoulders here, the woman clearly outspoken and rather vocal – refusing first impressions on that of anyone; her daughter Maria undergoing, what we presume to be from an early exchange with her mother, a rather strict upbringing as she comes to terms with her own life situation of being forced into moving states to get away from an ex-husband.

It is a situation, the escaping of one's family-imbued problems and leaving on negative terms as trouble brews within a family unit, that echoes that of Emile's; his decision to initially leave Canada being what it is, when the establishment of his back-story to do with his two brothers is what it is. Out of these beginnings, it is made obvious that Emile and Nadia's friendly connection might be read into as being born more out of other items than merely that of quaint family ties. Being relocated in Canada for this brief period allows Emile to hark back to the past; specifically, the ability to look back at his time as a young man with his thoughtful and more humane brother Freddy (Runyan) and his bigger, more primitive sibling Carl (Martin), whose aggression and such on the farm that they're based spawns degrees of conflict. Emile's consequent leaving of this aforementioned unit to study in England, usually the land of academia in these instances, leads him to be the man he is now but seemingly at the cost of a close tie with Freddy, whose own promise leads to its own respective conclusion. Bessai weaves the back-story to that of what happened to Emile in with the present strand wonderfully well; the execution, as specific analeptic manipulations play out furthermore within the flashbacks, are handled with such competence and guile, that it is difficult not to become so involved. Indeed, the results are naturalised; involving, brooding and really rather good.

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