BURNING MAN (2012, Australia)
SUNDAY 9th February 10.00 am
TUESDAY 11th February 8.00 pm
RUNNING TIME 109 minutes
Expat English chef Tom (Matthew Goode) runs a smart Bondi Beach restaurant but his otherwise happy life is overshadowed by the cancer that is increasingly threatening the life of his beautiful young wife, Sarah (Bojana Novakovic). With his 8-year-old son Oscar (Jack Heanly), Tom is trying to manage it all best he can, as Sarah's sister (Essie Davis) and other female friends old and new pass through his emotionally distraught life.
REVIEW BY LOUISE KELLER
Like shards of broken glass, Jonathan Teplitzky's film Burning Man is a jigsaw of raw emotions waiting to be pieced together. Using the shards as an analogy, it should be said that the edges are jagged - the main emotions encountered are anger and grief. This is a powerful and moody film that delves into the A to Z of life, exploring love, death, sex, parenthood, frustration and acceptance. Timeframes are shaken violently and it is up to us to piece together the events, characters and relationships if we are to get a clear understanding of what is going on. Engaging, puzzling, entertaining, heartbreaking, confronting and ultimately satisfying, this is a film that addresses tough topics head on, leaving us with an indelible residue. But be warned, it is often a sad and confronting experience.
In the film's opening scene, we see the naked buttocks of Matthew Goode's Tom, in the process of masturbating. There are more eye-opening scenes to come, including a topless prostitute wearing a long curly wig who offers to give a hand. In a sharply edited series of quick scenes, we flit to a hospital stretcher, a traffic accident, a child's disastrous birthday party and a busy commercial kitchen where the chef is taking out his anger on a client's criticism of his food. The chef is Tom, whose upmarket Bondi Beach restaurant is alive with activity - from the fiery behaviour in the kitchen to the flames that whoosh from the stoves as the elegant cuisine is created.
But the fire is not relegated only to the restaurant. Tom is burning up inside. His life is a maze of complexity and, as we meet the people in his life, we discover what has brought him to this point. Apart from his eight-year-old son Oscar (Jack Heanley), Tom is surrounded by women. Oscar plays a key part in his life and Heanly is terrific. The women are terrific, too. Bojana Novokovic plays Sarah, the curly haired brunette with whom Tom falls in love and marries, while Essie Davis gives strong support as her sister Karen. Kate Beahan is the amenable prostitute and Rachel Griffiths is wonderful in the small role of Miriam the therapist, whose therapy enters the bedroom.
Beautifully shot by Gary Phillips, who shot Teplitzky's previous two films Better Than Sex and Gettin' Square, production values are excellent, including costumes by Lizzie Gardiner and a soulful score by Lisa Gerrard. But it is Matthew Goode who jumps from the screen in a potent and outstanding performance as the troubled Tom who steals the film and with whom we commiserate.
REVIEW BY ANDREW L. URBAN
Chaos, anger, frustration and pain are rolled into a cinematic handgrenade as Jonathan Teplitzky confronts us from the start with a series of unsettling snapshots in the life of a man who seems to be losing control. Tom (Matthew Goode) is cooking and swearing in his restaurant kitchen one minute, driving chaotically with supplies from the market the next. Everything seems to annoy or irritate him.
It's not until later that we begin to piece together the complete picture, which Teplitzky presents like so many fragments, scattered on his screen canvas. By the time we do see the bigger picture, and we start to identify the characters we have met, we begin to understand why Tom is acting this way - and why his relationship with 8-year-old Oscar (Jack Heanley) is so crucial.
The central theme of the film is grief, but Teplitzky changes the tone several times to reflect the grieving process through which Tom struggles.
Matthew Goode is a fine actor with plenty of emotional weaponry, all of which he has to use in this draining characterisation. NIDA graduate Bojana Novakovic makes the most of this opportunity as Sarah, the lovely young woman struck down by illness, to showcase her considerable skills, which until now have been under used, even though she has a solid track record in both film and television.
The two leads carry the film, but there are some key scenes involving Essie Davis, Rachel Griffiths, Kate Beahan and Marta Dusseldorp, all playing women whose impact on Tom ranges from casual (but not necessarily casual in form) sex to nurturing care.
Oddly, for all its deep emotional touchstones and the profoundly sad plot, the film doesn't ignite the fires of our emotions - perhaps because of the fractured storytelling structure. But it's a cinematic achievement nonetheless and was invited to the Toronto Film Festival 2011, a sign of Teplitzky's prowess.