Emile is one of those films I really wanted to work well. The casting is first notch, from Sir Ian McKellen (in the title role), Deborah Cara Unger (his niece Nadia), Theo Crane (Maria, Nadia's daughter), Chris Martin (Carl, one late brother), Tygh Runyan (Freddy, another late brother), to Ian Tracy (Tom the repairman).
The movie relies heavily on flashbacks, which occur all too often. When these happen, the action stops and McKellen's face freezes. He appears as an his older self but wears clothes of the past, sometimes talking to characters (who respond to him) other times passively observing. In some flashbacks, he is present at events which we now know happened when he was out of the country. The last flashback in the movie is the least plausible, as it happens when McKellen is in the middle of giving an acceptance speech for an honourary degree! Better material for a nightmare, perhaps; there was a good dream sequence early in the movie.
The interaction between McKellen and Unger is first-rate, moving from the "hostility" type of hospitality, through confrontation, sadness, acceptance and finally mutual recognition. Though we aren't presented with a complete account of what happened all those years ago, by the end everyone has got closer to each other yet evidently maintains their own lives and independence. Aside from the niece and daughter (and dead relatives) the only other character who contributes significantly is the hunk-in-the-rough repairman: is it mere coincidence that once he starts working on the house, the main characters draw closer?
All said, the camera work is excellent; this film really "gets" Victoria, an enigmatic city on Vancouver Island loved for its beauty yet reviled for its boredom. As with the flashbacks, the score by Vincent Mai is repetitous at times and could have illustrated the flashbacks more effectively.