Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Release Review: Burning Man (Jonathan Teplitzky, 2011)

Burning Man is an Australian film from writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky (directing his third feature following the well-received Gettin’ Square and Better Than Sex). Impressive British actor Matthew Goode gives an extremely intense and mentally agitated performance as Tom, the owner-chef of a chic Bondi restaurant. Throughout the film we are revealed to a lot of different things (over several shifting time periods) but most notably that he meets and marries Sarah (Bojana Novakovic) and that they have a son named Oscar (Jack Heanly). When tragedy strikes the family, Tom is sent into an unbalanced state, which results in him using withdrawal and emotionless sex as an unhealthy way of coping with the trauma.

The majority of this film takes place as a prolonged moment of when "one’s life flashes before their eyes”. There is immediately a kaleidoscope of images (scattered memories) that seem to have little connection to one another (Tom is seen lying bloodied on a hospital stretcher, entertaining prostitutes and being escorted out of a hospital by security) but eventually register meaning by the film’s conclusion. Burning Man expresses all kinds of powerful images that deal with life and death, grief and loss, and re-discovering what it means to live a happy and fulfilling life. The film, at times, does pack quite an emotional punch and the challenging structure to the film is a way of removing it from the conventional. Though it is sometimes distracting and does make feeling sympathetic a bit of a challenge, I think it is an approach that worked, for the most part, quite well.

Before his life is nearly taken by a horrific car accident, which is a mixture of fate (he was in self-destructive state) and fault (he was an aggressive and negligent driver), Tom is reminded of both the highs and lows of his life – which are revealed in a fragmented and non-linear arrangement for the audience to piece together - and asked to consider what has transpired in his life, question the decisions he has made and decide what he needs to do to once again be happy.

We immediately start to question: Who is this vile man? Why is he so intense and angry? Why is he sleeping with all these women? What has happened to him? Though he is initially unlikeable – crass, rude and impatient – you start to develop sympathy for him following the revelations of what has plagued him, and see these early scenes in a completely different way. I won’t divulge what that is, but Teplitzky can be commended for taking his time in revealing it, and by offering up some clever misleads. For a while, it is fascinating to watch the events unfold, but the film, I think, is a little too long.

While this approach is quite unique (though I did briefly think of Last Year in Marienbad) and gives the sense that the film is forever evolving, and filling in gaps in our understanding, it does prove wearying on the viewer. Just when I felt like I had seen enough scenes that had generated sympathy and produced a level of discomfort, there was another, and another. I don’t this served the film too well, unfortunately. I also felt that there were several scenes that stuck out as being poorly executed and unnecessary, and felt that few of the cast (an excellent Bojana Novakovic is the exception) matched Goode’s intensity or prowess.

There is consistently a great energy to the film. It is risqué and features some pretty startling cooking sequences, repeated shots of Tom’s accident, and instances in Tom’s consciousness where objects burst into flames. Garry Phillip’s photography is one of the film’s highlights, and hats off to Martin Connor’s intricate editing. It must have been a nightmare. Burning Man is one of the best features to come out of Australia in 2011. In an industry that continues to evolve and back ambitious filmmaking ventures, 2011 has been an important year for Australian film. While I haven’t met a number of well-praised Australian films from 2011 with the same enthusiasm as many, the national success of feel-good family drama, Red Dog, and the growing international respect for the harrowing crime thriller, Snowtown, is exciting for the industry. Burning Man is right there with them. Matthew Goode is outstanding, and it’s a bold, disciplined and emotionally involving drama.

My Rating: ★★★1/2 (B)

No comments:

Post a Comment