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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

The Burning Plain
Directed by Guillermo Arriaga
Magnolia Pictures 09/09 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R - sexuality, nudity, language

The Mexican screenplay writer Guillermo Arriaga has an impressive record of well-received multi-narrative dramas: Babel, 21 Grams, and Amos Perros. He has a gift for revealing the mystery of human personality and the consequences of the choices we make in our lives. In his debut as a director, he takes a multidimensional look at the reasons behind the self-destructive behavior of Sylvia (Charlize Theron), a restaurant manager in Portland, Oregon. Why would a beautiful and successful woman cut herself on her thighs? The answers lie hidden in the past along with the activities of many other characters.

The backstory strands include the love affair between Mexican-American Nick Martinez (Joaquim Almeida) and Gina (Kim Bassinger). They are both married but get involved in a passionate relationship in New Mexico. They die in bed together when a fire sweeps through the place in the desert where they have been having sex. At his father's funeral, Nick's teenage son Santiago (J. D. Pardo) sees Gina's daughter Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence). Out of mutual curiosity, they begin a relationship that is fraught with danger and strangeness. She scares him when they do a ritual together than involves burning the skin.

The other backstory deals with Santiago (Danny Pino) who is a single parent of 12-year-old daughter Maria (Tessa Ia). He works as a crop-duster. Her life is upended when he is involved in an accident and decides to take some drastic action.

Charlize Theron gives a searing performance as Sylvia, the woman with a dark past of pain, loneliness, and anger. She has turned into a person who casually has sex with strangers but does not enjoy it. When Carlos (Jose Maria Yazpik), Santiago's best friend, shows up in Portland, she knows that he has something important to tell her.

In The Burning Plain, Guillermo Arriaga again demonstrates the skill and ease in his mastery of the multi-narrative medium. We find ourselves bonding with Sylvia as she faces a challenge familiar to most of us: the need to come to grips with the past and put it behind us.


Special features on the DVD include the making of The Burning Plain; the music of The Burning Plain; and HDNet: a look at The Burning Plain.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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