Burning Man | DVD Review
Tragically overlooked by much of the Western cinematic consciousness this passed year, Burning Man came to be one of the biggest films of the year in its home country of Australia, taking the Awgie Award from the Australian Writers’ Guild for best picture and host of nominations from the Film Critics Circle of Australia along the way. Like its shattered protagonist, the film’s narrative arrives in a series of vibrant and intense flourishes trying recklessly to place the images into some form of understanding. Slow motion car accidents, occasional skin exposure, lots of shouting accompanied by tears, plenty of moments with obvious impact are presented, but no context. That arrives in carefully mapped out bits and pieces to provide an excellently executed emotional punch to the gut that while not being completely autobiographical, does draw authenticity from the heart and soul of writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky’s own experiences.
We are introduced to Tom (Matthew Goode) as a successful chef, but a man trying to fill a very dark void. His short fuse and spitfire tongue can’t seem to be tamed and hookers just don’t seem to be doing the trick in bed. Soon, we find that he has an 8-year-old son named Oscar (Jack Heanly) who has picked up some of his father’s favorite words. At his birthday party after an accident involving a cake, Tom loses all control and finds himself in jail. As he hits rock bottom, we start to find out how he arrived there. His gorgeous and loving wife (Bojana Novakovic), whom he lived every waking moment for while she was alive, has just recently passed after losing a hard fought battle with cancer. He is left wondering what point in living remains. Now, the story, when described in such simple and concise terms, seems a bit stale to say the least, and painfully generic at worst, but through his unconventional storytelling structure and absolutely sensational cinematography by Garry Phillips, Leplitzky avoids the well worn path of mediocrity.
Though the film centers around impending death and the unthinkable reparation process that occurs after a loved one’s passing, the film is really about life and the passion for it. From the outset, the frame is filled with mouth watering food, our life blood and a definite source of continuous pleasure. Tom is constantly cooking it, buying it, talking about it, and in one instance, getting pummeled by it. More directly, the creation of life and the extreme sensuality captured on screen between Goode and Novakovic makes it that much harder to bare the films final quarter. There is also a profound sense of compassion within the often humorous father-son relationship that is slowly decoded. Heanly’s young talents are aplenty and showcased throughout, but it is Goode’s commanding top shelf performance that brings the film above and beyond your run of the mill terminal illness drama. Outside of a few title inspiring heavy handed metaphors, Burning Man is a truly heartbreaking film of love, commitment, loss and ascendance that benefits greatly from its whirl wind narrative and propulsive editing.
MPI Home Video and IFC Films have dutifully picked up the film for US distro, but have unfortunately passed on an HD release. The DVD does however give a striking presentation, with the film’s gorgeously lensed visuals showing great detail across the board and vibrant color representation which highlights the life within. With a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that possesses quite a lot of warmth itself, it reaches around to the surrounds sparingly, keeping a focus on dialogue, which is always crisp and clear. Packaged in a clear case as most IFC Films releases do, the disc sits safely, alone.
Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Teplitzky and Editor Martin Connor
Having lived with much of the experiences within the film, Teplitzky could talk and talk about each minute little detail of the film, from emotional responses of each scene to minuscule audio cues in the background, all of which comes across as engaging intellectual conversation. Connor only occasionally chimes in, but the track has a wealth of info on the production and you can feel the pride in Teplitzky’s voice throughout.
These a brief interview tidbits from all of the principle cast, as well as Teplitzky and producer Andy Paterson, each giving their thoughts on the production and the appeal of the film. The breaks in conversation by subject titles are frustrating, and lead to the series of questions to feel a bit flat.
Behind The Scenes
Running about fifteen minutes, this is a collection of raw footage from the set during production. You get glimpses of how many scenes were constructed, but never a full exploration of one or another.
Giving a condensed preview of the editing found in the first third of the film, the trailer gives away more than film does in its first half hour. That said, without doing so may have made for a very hard film to market.
Teeming with life while thoroughly exploring lose, Teplitzky’s semi-autobiographical tragedy manages to explore an immense amplitude of emotional terrain thanks to a stellar performance by Matthew Goode and a script that truly holds the heart of its creator. Burning Man does suffer from a set of weighty visual thematics, but its earnest handling of the material and vivid photography make them easy to overlook. While not material one wants to endure often, it is a film worth seeing, and MPI’s DVD is currently the closest you’ll get outside of an import.