Directed by: Pablo Fendrik
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga, Chico Diaz
Deep within the forests of Argentina, farmers are being forced to leave by landgrabbers who burn down parts of the forest to intimidate them. A stranger named Kai arrives to help one particular farmer, his daughter and farm-hand, but is unable to prevent the killing of the farmer and the abduction of his daughter, Vania. Now Kai must use all of his skills to rescue Vania and take revenge…
The Burning is a really interesting mash-up of genres, part western and part jungle adventure.
The film starts in a very enigmatic style, in the camp of the land-grabbers. We have no idea who they are – they may be our protagonists, for all we know. This opening scene suddenly lurches into horror film territory, however, with a terrifying discovery.
In its early scenes the film has a very measured, deliberate pace, allowing the audience to bask in its visuals without being hindered by plot details. Even when Kai arrives at the farm, it takes a while to understand why he is there.
This all changes when the land-grabbers arrive. And they arrive in style, too, slowly emerging from the darkness. The change in pace is down to Vania. The landgrabbers (we learn some of their names, but not that of their leader) are dispassionate about their work, moving in a methodical manner, conserving their energy.Kai has a certain serenity to him. He is an integral part of his surroundings, wearing the jungle like a second skin. Vania, on the other hand, is young and passionate, full of hormones and emotions, and this gives the film more urgency when she is in the spotlight.
The Burning is a pretty vicious film at times. The Landgrabbers have no qualms about killing people, nor abducting and raping any women they come across. Kai does his best no to kill anyone but maims them instead, using sharpened bamboo sticks as spears (those things are really sharp and deadly!) and setting a few traps for them. The action is very well handled, shot in a style which matches the rest of the film. There’s a compelling escalation of the stakes involved leading to a satisfying climax in which the farmstead is held under siege.
Director Pablo Fendrik evokes a number of different film styles to tell his story, while remaining true to his own style at the same time. Some of the jungle scenes for example have the feel of Predator or Rambo, with an appropriately bombastic soundtrack to match. The ending is very much in the style of a Spaghetti Western, with the score switching appropriately to a Spanish guitar sound for an epic standoff.
The acting is great across the board. As the mysterious Kai, Gael Garcia Bernal has great presence throughout the film. His character is clearly at one with his jungle surroundings, so much so that he is respected by the jaguar (el tigre, as some refer to him), who roams the jungle. Alice Braga brings an earthy intensity to Vania. She’s given her own sexual agency, instigating her jungle tryst with Kai, rather than waiting for it to happen.
The landgrabbers are excellent too. They have very little dialogue, they just get on with the job at hand. The two brothers who run the operation are evil incarnate, with no honour or respect for others (except at the end, when one of them dismisses their assistant just before the final attack).
One other “actor” needs recognition too, and that’s the jaguar. At first we don’t see him, only his deadly handiwork in a mauled body. However both Vania and Kai come in contact with him at different parts of the film. Whoever was on animal wrangling duties did a superb job, and the camera is able to capture the animal’s feral beauty.
The lack of narrative structure and slow pace at the beginning might put a few people off, but The Burning definitely rewards and entertains those who can accept it. Part western, part jungle warfare, The Burning is a beautifully shot action thriller.
8 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)