The Burning Review
South American movies have featured few and far between on my watch list during my life, with the only two I can recall being, The Motorcycle Diaries and City of God. City of God, in particular, is a stunningly powerful film, and so it was with mild interest and curiosity I sat down to watch Pablo Fendrik's, The Burning.
Hailing from Argentina, written and directed by Pablo Fendrik and starring, The Motorcycle Diaries, Gael Garcia Bernal, The Burning is an extremely slow burn.(Pun entirely intended) Garcia is Kai, a cross between Tarzan and John Rambo, who befriends a local farming family shortly before they are the brutally attacked by mercenaries, in order to seize their land. Kai can only look on, later, as the thugs murder the Father, leave the son for dead and kidnap the farmers daughter, Vania, played by Alice Braga(City of God). Kai heals the son's bullet wound and sets out to rescue Vania from the mercenaries and stave off this threat to their jungle habitat.
Apparently there is a strong environmental message in the film against deforestation but it's really a quasi western, revenge movie, set in a South American rainforest. To be perfectly honest, I've seen it all before and done better. The script must have been pamphlet thin as dialogue is sparse, the action is terribly rote and there is a lot of intense, eye acting. Sergio Leone this is not though! Character development goes as far as telling us Kai cannot live in the city as he does not like what people become there!? This in itself is no bad thing, as Clint Eastwood's nameless western hero will attest to, but Kai is no 'Man with no name'. He is, however, a fully signed up, in tune with nature, boy scout, setting traps, fashioning weapons and generally blending into his jungle surroundings as if they were home.
The mercenaries, led menacingly by Tarquinho, (Charles Dance lookalike, Claudio Tolcachir) are entirely perfunctory in their bumbling, bad guy just waiting to die, way and so, serve the film well but everything is just so....predictable. Right down to the, Straw Dogs, siege finale and, Insert Western Here, high noon shootout. There is drama here, to be sure, but no tension. A fatal flaw in film making, surely!
The Burning does look very good though, with the backdrop being that of the Parana River, which runs through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Practically anywhere the camera turns is a beautiful shot and, with certain choices of lighting and practical effects, some of the scenes look truly magnificent. The finale with burning fields and billowing dust clouds is particularly atmospheric, so plaudits must go to cinematographer Julian Apezteguia.
The Burning was a contender to represent Argentina at the 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film but lost out to Damian Szifron's Wild Tales.
The Burning comes to the UK from Arrow films. Arrow's, Academy offshoot does a sterling job of bringing foreign cinema to the UK and this BD is a decent addition to their catalogue. Clocking in at 1 hr 40 minutes, the movie has an aspect of 2.35:1 and it looks very good.
The colour seems to be generally quite muted but the varying shades of green in the jungle look very natural and contrast well with the browns and blacks of the dead and burnt jungle floors. Daytime scenes appear burnt out in the bright sunlight but this is natural and everything is clear and sharp where it needs to be. Even in dark or night time scenes, detail is perfectly acceptable. As mentioned above, the cinematography is often excellent with such stunning locales to film in and I can see no artifacts or anomalies creeping in to the picture to ruin the view.
The audio track is a Spanish 5.1 lossless mix, which does the job quietly and unfussily. Perhaps a more rousing musical score or some more audio effects would help heighten the tension of the film but as it is, this is a rather reserved 5.1 experience to accompany a by the numbers movie.
The only extra on this release is the 16 minute 'Making Of', which is a short and unspectacular look behind the scenes of the film. It is, at least, better than the EPK fillers we get, with booming voiceovers, but it's all too brief. I suppose though, with a film so devoid of any real meat and bones, there can't be be that much to tell from a behind the scenes viewpoint anyway.
A standard revenge movie upped sticks to the Amazonian rainforest and put on it's environmental hat. Watch if you like the sound of that or if you like shots of a fit, naked male torso running about. The Blu-ray offers decent picture quality and a perfunctory audio track but is light on extra material.