Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes follows a young girl in her perpetual search for her mother. Emanuel is an unusual girl, who lives in her own world and carries a holster of defensive, witty comebacks. She lives with her caring and well-meaning father, and his new wife, who just wants to be friends with her unreceptive new stepdaughter. When Linda, who bears a striking resemblance to Emanuel’s dead mother, moves in next door, Emanuel cannot help her curiosity and becomes drawn into Linda’s dark and delusional world. The strange exploration of the subject matter may polarize viewers, giving the film a 5. The film is beautifully shot and the heroine relatable, however the issue at its heart is about the mental incapacity to process pain.
Linda is a woman who suffered the loss of her child and was unable to bear it. Her psyche creates a myth, an alternate reality in which she did not lose her child, in which she is a happy single mother. The reason Emanuel is so drawn into this delusion is because, although she knows Linda’s baby is not a real child, she herself has a neurotic inability to move past her own loss. This makes her the most sympathetic to Linda’s situation, although she is just strong enough not to fall completely into her own delusions. Yet Emanuel’s desire for a connection to her mother is strong, and is captured in the water and French motifs throughout the film. Emanuel’s mother knew French, and described the feeling of being free amongst the fishes before she died giving birth to her. Emanuel hears water all the time, sees it flooding up to swallow her at various times. She also has a preoccupation with French music and culture. Both of these motifs are symbolic of the way her mother’s loss has changed her and her painful longing to recapture anything left from that relationship.
As the narrative progresses, Emanuel herself becomes more and more unstable, until she feels utterly unhinged. She becomes as invested in the doll- as- child delusion as Linda is. There is a gorgeous under water sequence, in which Emanuel is finally swallowed completely by the water. At first this symbolizes the way she has become completely overcome by the lingering presence of her dead mother and the impact of the pain. However, it then shifts, and becomes an image of freedom and the ability to let go. After the traumatic explosion of Linda’s alternate reality, Emanuel is finally able to accept and move on.
– Mariah Torres