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|The Burning Plain
dir-scr Guillermo Arriaga
with Charlize Theron, Kim Basinger, Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquim de Almeida, JD Pardo, Danny Pino, José María Yazpik, Tessa Ia, Brett Cullen, Robin Tunney, Rachel Ticotin, John Corbett
release UK 13.Mar.09, US 18.Sep.09
He's behind you: Yazpik and Theron
VENICE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Showing considerable skill behind the camera, writer Arriaga makes his feature directing debut with a sensitive, moving drama about the thorny issue of relationships between parents and children.
Sylvia (Theron) runs a restaurant on the rocky Oregon coastline, and is quietly going about her lonely life when a stranger (Yazpik) approaches her with news about something from her past. In New Mexico, Gina (Basinger) is secretly having an affair with Nick (de Almeida), but her teen daughter (Lawrence) figures it out and starts seeing Nick's son (Pardo), much to the horror of both families. And in Mexico, Santiago (Pino) is a crop-duster whose injury in a plane accident sends his daughter (Ia) on an uneasy quest.
Arriaga's remarkable achievement is to string the various strands together, as the film progresses, into a single narrative. And watching this story reveal itself is exhilarating, mainly because it adds resonance to the emotional scenes we have watched along the way. It definitely helps that Theron and Basinger draw us in completely by bringing layers of emotion out of their characters, and Lawrence holds her own as well. We really want to understand the actions of these complex women, and what we discover isn't always easy.
Quite the contrary. This is a film that's unafraid to look into pain and death, illicit relationships and ethnic issues. But it also goes deeply into forgiveness and redemption. As a director, Arriaga has a beautifully light touch with the camera, which floats lyrically through the scenes, rooting everything firmly within the contrasting landscapes. Subtle directing and editing choices continually evoke recurring themes--infidelity, scars, empathy--plus echoing images of fire. And there's a potent sense that we're watching a story about how the decisions of parents affect their children. And vice versa.
This is a wrenching, emotional film that's often extremely disturbing to watch. But what makes it gripping is the way the characters remain so grounded in reality that we can identify with them even when they do terrible things or struggle through achingly awkward interaction. It's a skilfully grown-up film that gets under the skin and keeps us thinking.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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