Friday, September 25, 2009


The Burning Plain

THE BURNING PLAIN Guillermo Arriaga is well known for his nonlinear and fractured story telling as the writer of "21 Gram" and "Bable." He continues this style in his directorial debut "The Burning Plain" (USA/Argentina 2008 | in English/Spanish | 111 min.) to tell love stories which are filled with pain and suffering. One should not be surprised when sitting through a good portion of the film and getting lost in the multiple threads of the story. As expected, of course, these subplots will all come together, if one is patient enough.

The film opens with mysterious Sylvia (Charlize Theron), who is a house manager at a fancy restaurant. Before one can make any sense of Sylvia, other subplots already jam the screen as if they are competing with each other for screen time. One story is about a K-mart shopper mama's (Kim Basinger) burning urge to carry out an adultery affair. Another story is about forbidden love between teenagers Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Cristobal (Diego J. Torres). Meanwhile, the film also travels to Mexico to shows the life of a little girl, which counts for another story.

These stories shuffle together like a deck of cards in a magician's hands, even everybody already knows that the shuffling just to create an illusion for the audience—the magical truth behind the shuffling is already there. However, a magician does not reveal that truth in the end; otherwise he would ruin the magic. Unfortunately, when a movie reveals everything in the end, the shuffling of these subplots leaves an impression nothing more than ostentation.

Jennifer Lawrence and J.D. Padro in THE BURNING PLAIN. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

While many characters in the film are unconvincing and uncomprehended (Sylvia should immediately comes to one's mind), the love story surrounded between Mariana and Cristobal is the most captivating and best performed. It would have been better if their story did not get interrupted randomly and constantly by other subplots, despite how relevant they might be.

When style of story telling overpowers the story, it becomes a distraction to the story. It would have been different if it were a magic performance. However, this is a motion picture and it reveals most the secrets in the end.

"The Burning Plain" opens on Friday, September 25, 2009 at Bay Area theaters.

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