Review: Burning Man


Directed by: Jonathan Teplitzky
Written by:Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Matthew Goode, Bojana Novakovic, Essie Davis, Rachel Griffiths, Kerry Fox, Anthony Hayes
Released: November 17, 2011
Grade: A-

Australian director Jonathan Teplitzky is putting together an impressive resume.  I was a huge fan of his debut feature, Better Than Sex, and equally enjoyed his follow up, Gettin’ Square.  Both films earned him an AFI Award nomination for best director and I strongly suggest you track them down if you haven’t seen them already.

After an eight year absence from the big screen, Teplitzky has returned with Burning Man.  He has described it as a very “personal film” because he has drawn heavily from his own life experiences in putting together the screenplay.  His partner, costume designer Amanda Lovejoy, died roughly 10 years ago from breast cancer.

Teplitzky hasn’t set out to make a sentimental tear-jerker.  Do not go along thinking you’re in for a remake of Terms Of Endearment.  You’ll realise from the very opening scene – that of star Matthew Goode masturbating in front of a prostitute – that Burning Man is a far more challenging filmgoing experience.

It’s most obvious trait is an extremely fragmented narrative.  Instead of going from point A to point B in a straight line, Teplitzky takes us there through a myriad of roundabouts and u-turns.  We jump back and forth in the timeline and it will take audiences a little while to get a clear picture of the story and its characters.  You’ll need to be paying attention all the way through.

The style illustrates the psyche of the leading character – a chef named Tom (Goode) who is trying to overcome the death of his wife (Novakovic) whilst faced with the responsibility of raising his young son on his own.  It’s a situation he’s struggling to deal with and his reckless actions illustrate that fact.  None of Tom’s friends want to criticise however – they excuse his erratic behaviour as part of the grieving process.  It effectively gives him a leave pass to do whatever he wants.

I’ve a hunch the film’s fragmented nature will frustrate some viewers but the remainder should see this as a powerful piece of cinema.  The death of a loved one is a topic often explored on the big screen but Burning Man finds a way of telling it in a realistic and heartfelt manner.  It came as no surprise to see it selected at the Toronto Film Festival for its world premiere.

Matthew Goode (A Single Man, Match Point) delivers a wonderful performance as Tom.  He’s a character that you want to sympathise with but he makes it difficult with some of his not-so-likeable outbursts.  It left me wondering how I’d reaction if a friend found himself in a similar state.  Do you give them space and let them “get it out of their system” or do you haul them into line?  Perhaps buying a ticket to see this movie would be a good start.

You can read my interview with director Jonathan Teplitzsky by clicking here.