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The Burning Plain follows the story of several different people separated by time and space -- Sylvia, a woman in Oregon who must undertake an emotional odyssey to rid herself of her past; Mariana and Santiago, two teenagers trying to piece together the shattered lives of their parents in a New Mexico border town; Maria, a little girl who goes on a border-crossing voyage to help her parents find redemption, forgiveness, and love; and Gina and Nick, a couple who must deal with an intense and clandestine affair... because they are both married. Written by
sundance7490 from Scottsdale, Arizona
An underrated master-work about the repercussions of an illicit affair
Guillermo Arriaga was the writer for Inarritu's films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) and here dons the director's mantel for the first time on a major film project. "The Burning Plain" is an intense story that 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 that echo down through the following years. The chain of events is initiated when Gina, a housewife and mother, embarks on a passionate romance with Nick, a Mexican with a family of his own. After a gas tank fire 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. Drawn together by their need to understand the tragedy, they soon become secret lovers themselves, and the grieving families are both outraged when the youngsters' romantic attachment is discovered. Santiago flees to Mexico with the pregnant Mariana, but the consequences of Gina and Nick's illicit affair have only just begun to manifest themselves.
Arriaga focuses on the mother, daughter and grand-daughter at the story's center. 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 notices evidence of her mother's infidelity, she remains silent and carries the burden alone. The breach between them widens as Mariana's investigations confirm her suspicions - and the youthful beauty of her face transforms into a mask as she conceals knowledge that could destroy her family. Arriaga portrays the situation with a poignant delicacy that amplifies the pain of the girl's dilemma - showing the silent spread of the poison, its contagion first claiming the mother-daughter relationship, and then creating new ripples of damage that will ultimately infect the next generation.
The narrative has a tighter arc than Arriaga's work with Inarritu - it's essentially a simple tale, illustrating how one transgression can set in motion the uncontrollable engine of fate. He relies on classical cinematic techniques rather than Inarritu's flashy ones - but as in his previous work, Arriaga breaks up the story's chronological flow by chopping back and forth between the two time segments. One can't help wondering if the method was necessary here, since the story is so strong and linear. However this is just a quibble - "The Burning Plain" results in something close to a masterpiece which shares many thematic elements found in the work of Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy and Dostoevsky.
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