From the opening images of Burning Man, we know we are in for an interesting ride. Without spoiling the film, the opening sets a tone that continues to permeate throughout the course of the film. It is a scene of a sexual nature. However, this scene does not root the film into a purely sexual basis, but rather employs it as a theme.
The opening sequences are presented out of time, generally reflecting Tom the protagonist’s own disrupted frame of mind. After a few minutes we gather that Tom (Matthew Goode) is a chef with his own restaurant. He is a single father with one eight-year-old son Oscar (Jack Heanly) and his wife Sarah (Bojana Novakovic) has recently died terribly young, leaving behind a shattered family. Flashbacks reveal a literal brighter day with hues and colours that detail sunnier times. Present day reality is bleaker in its greyness, and then sun seems to have disappeared.
Scenes of both romantic love and primal urges display the sexuality in the film as extremely realistic. This is unsurprising considering writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky’s earlier film Better Than Sex, which presented a rarely seen (at least in Australia cinema) insight into a sexual relationship between strangers. Burning Man follows by revealing the sexual insights into a grieving man’s antics.
Fine performances are given from the supporting cast with Essie Davis as Sarah’s sister, Rachel Griffiths as a flirtation for Tom, and Jack Heanly as Tom and Sarah’s son Oscar. Kerry Fox also makes a brief, if not underused performance as a co-worker in Tom’s restaurant, as does Gia Cardies as Tom’s realtor. Musically, Lisa Gerrard provides a simple but tenderly affecting score.
Matthew Goode and Bojana Novakovic simply own the film with their startling performances. Having not seen Novakovic before, she appears as a revelation in her fearless and deeply moving performance as cancer stricken young wife and mother. Goode displays a wonderful talent that sees his range tackle the familiar signs of grieving with tenderness and truthfulness.
Burning Man does draw comparison to The Boys are Back, the recent Australian feature by Scott Hicks. Both have UK imported leading male widower protagonists who are coming to terms with their own grief as well as raising children. Portraying grief in its rawness sees a difficult balancing act between sentimentality and sincerity, and Burning Man succeeds in its representation of grief, and the painful and sometimes humourous memories that are attached.
Martin Connor should be acknowledged and rewarded for making Burning Man a masterclass in film editing. Cleverly emotive, Burning Man is absolutely absorbing and features a strong voice in Australian cinema with Teplitzky’s touching script and beautiful images.
Burning Man was released on November 17 through Transmission Films.