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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

This movie (The Burning Plain, 2009) takes you further than the classical Romeo & Juliet scenario because it examines what happens to the survivors of the original deaths. And it's got other things to recommend it, too. Kim Basinger (in pic with Joaquim de Almeida) plays Gina, a small-town US housewife with too many children and a husband who doesn't give her the attention she craves since her mastectomy.

But Nick Martinez does. They are passionate lovers: gentle, aware, concerned, susceptible to the smallest change in tone and ready to give it air before the next kiss. It's a bravura performance by both actors and, alone, makes this strange little movie a must-see.

In Sylvia (Charlize Theron) we see the effects of partaking too deep of a bitter harvest. As a young girl using her real name, Mariana (played by Jennifer Lawrence), she took the ultimate revenge against her mother by torching the remote trailer in which the two lovers were enjoying one of their regular trysts. Her reaction is odd. Instead of helping to perpetuate the feud that has sprung up between the two families in the wake of the deaths, she seeks out Nick's son, Santiago (JD Pardo).

They become lovers in a touching series of scenes where youth combines with Mariana's odd experience to forge a deep bond that survives exposure. When it comes, the two lovers flee despite the fact that she is already pregnant. Mexico beckons and they respond to its call by driving south in a battered pickup truck.

The plot then shifts forward 12 years and across thousands of kilometres to rainy seaside Orgeon. Sylvia now works as the manager of a high-end restaurant and takes revenge on her younger self by getting into a series of destructive relationships with men she doesn't care about. The curse of buried hatred follows her even here and she cannot escape its tendrils.

When Santiago's crop duster crashes and he is hospitalised, he asks his friend Carlos (José María Yazpik) to find his daughter's mother in America. With the 12-year-old in tow, Carlos makes the voyage north and confronts Sylvia, who is initially troubled by their appearance and rudely rejects them only to change her mind upon reflection. Finally, the sensible daughter breaks the chains of the curse and the three return to Mexico and to Santiago's bedside in the hospital.

It's a complicated plot and it takes a good three-quarters of the film to link everything together because the director (Guillermo Arriaga) treats the two strands of the story - Nick and Gina with young Mariana; Sylvia and Carlos with young Maria - separately, as though they were completely unconnected narratives. When we finally make the Sylvia-Mariana connection the story suddenly morphs into a morality tale and we appreciate how it could apply to many other situations in the world. Relations between nations, for example. The sins of the fathers are, indeed, visited upon the sons.

There is strong acting in this unconventional and, unfortunately, mainly invisible film, primarily from Basinger and Theron but also from de Almeida and Robin Tunney (who plays Sylvia's friend Laura). Together with fine directing these performances serve to generate a feeling of expectancy that is rewarded by fine cinematography.

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