4 August 2010 | tigerfish50
Consequences of an Extra-marital Affair
Guillermo Arriaga was the writer for Inarritu's films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and directs here for the first time on a major film project. "The Burning Plain" plays out over thirteen years, although all the action is squeezed into two segments at each end of the time span. The film relates how an extra-marital affair has repercussions which echo through the following years. The chain of events is initiated when Gina, a housewife and mother, embarks on a romance with Nick, a Mexican with a family of his own. After a gas tank explosion kills the lovers while they make love in a remote desert trailer, Gina's traumatized teenage daughter Mariana becomes friends with Nick's son Santiago.
Arriaga focuses on the mother, daughter and grand-daughter as the story unfolds. He uses four actresses for their roles - two being required for the teenage Mariana and her 30-something persona - and all of them (Kim Basinger, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence and Tessa la) give exceptional performances. When Mariana first sees evidence of her mother's infidelity, she remains silent and carries the burden alone. The breach between them widens as she investigations and confirms her suspicions - and the youthful beauty of her face transforms into a mask as she conceals knowledge which could destroy her family. Arriaga portrays her dilemma with a delicacy that amplifies the girl's pain - showing the silent spread of the poison, its contagion first claiming the mother-daughter relationship, and then creating new ripples of damage which will ultimately infect the next generation.
The narrative is tighter than Arriaga's work with Inarritu - it illustrates how one transgression can set in motion the engine of fate. He relies on classic cinematic techniques rather than Inarritu's flashier ones - but as in his previous work, Arriaga breaks up the story's chronological flow by chopping back and forth between two time segments. One can't help wondering if it was necessary here, since the story possesses such a strong arc. However, this is just a quibble - "The Burning Plain" results in something close to a masterpiece which shares themes found in the work of Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Dostoevsky.