UK Release Date: 10th August 2015
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Pablo Fendrik
Writer: Pablo Fendrik
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga, Claudio Tolcachir, Chico Diaz
Synopsis: A mysterious, but highly dangerous, woodsman finds himself in the right place at the right time to save a family from a band of mercenaries seeking to steal their home.
The western is in something of a resurgent phase right now, with films like Django Unchained and Slow West following in the footsteps of Leone and Eastwood. It isn’t just American cinema, however, that is bringing the western sensibility to the big screen. The Burning takes the conventions of the genre deep into the heart of the Argentinian rainforest.
The Burning is now available on Blu-ray in the UK, courtesy of Arrow Films.
Mysterious, taciturn woodsman Kai (Gael Garcia Bernal) arrives at a rainforest farm just before the owner (Chico Diaz) is murdered by a band of mercenaries looking to seize the land by any means necessary. Kai rescues the owner’s daughter Vania (Alice Braga) from them and they mount a defensive campaign to keep hold of the property.
| "I’ve had the feeling I had to swim down the river for a long time."
For most of its running time, The Burning is content to play the slow burn game, gradually building its narrative towards a violent conclusion. However, director Pablo Fendrik struggles to create much anticipation with his bland storytelling and shocking lack of characterisation. We spend almost the entire length of The Burning with Gael Garcia Bernal’s character, but learn almost nothing about him and his potentially fantastical origins.
It is shocking, in fact, how empty Bernal is in the role, especially considering his impressive turn in Jon Stewart’s political thriller Rosewater. Here, he is given very little to chew on and simply spends the majority of the film running around shirtless staring at things. Alice Braga barely gets a moment of screen time and the supposed villains of the piece are astonishingly one-dimensional. They’re only in need of moustaches to twirl.
By the time The Burning does move into its Rambo-esque finale, it has lost any of the initial goodwill of its premise and is left as nothing more than visual bluster. Like western contemporary The Salvation, it’s a film rich with cinematic invention that makes the most of its setting, but there’s no emotional depth. The initial promise of an intriguing magical realism plot element is also soon ditched outside of a couple of lines of throwaway dialogue.
| "Nobody’s going to kick us out of here."
The Burning is a real waste of what could have been an essential addition to the resurgent western genre. Unfortunately, bland performances and a plot that barely gets out of first gear render the impressive visual style of the director moot, leaving behind a dull shell of a movie.
The special features are uncharacteristically sparse for an Arrow release. There is only a brief behind the scenes documentary.
Pop or Poop?
Despite the clear visual verve of director Pablo Fendrik, The Burning is a disappointing film that never makes the most of its evocative setting.
The actors are given little material to chew on and interesting themes fall by the wayside in the wake of a plot that’s just too thin.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Burning is available on Blu-ray from today courtesy of Arrow Films.