Mysterious drifter Kai (Gael Garcia Bernal) emerges from the depths of the Argentinian jungle and is welcomed by a farmer and his family. As they prepare the evening’s meal, they are attacked by a group of mercenaries intent on getting control of the family’s property. After killing the farmer and wounding a helper, the men kidnap the farmer’s daughter Vania (Alice Braga) and take her deep into the jungle. Kai sets off on a one-man mission to get revenge and to bring Vania back home.
The Burning is the latest big screen outing for writer/director Pablo Fendrik. It is a film with few words, lots of gorgeous visuals and a slow burn (no pun intended). The opening of the film will leave you unsure of what’s about to unfold but it soon becomes clear that a group of mercenaries are working their way through the jungle and forcing families to sign over their property so they can build on it. For the majority of the film little is known about the hero Kai other than he’s very handy when it comes to using his landscape to his advantage and he doesn’t enjoy wearing a shirt (not that we’re complaining).
As The Burning enter its second half, the action does pick up slightly along with the pace as Kai hunts down the men who kidnapped Vania. From that point on it goes from atmospheric to revenge thriller, and it’s clear that director Fendrik’s aim was to tackle a modern day Western. The Western nods are clear, particularly in the film’s climax, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition he’s chosen setting a Western in the sweltering heat of the Argentinian jungle.
At the core of the film is a strong central performance from Gael Garcia Bernal. The actor is known for tackling varied and challenging roles, and this one is no exception. He may be short in stature but he has a strong screen presence and never fails to make an impact. He’s believable as a worthy adversary for the mercenaries but he has the versatility as an actor to be able to carry off the movie’s gentler moments too. Alice Braga is given little to do other than be the typical damsel in distress but she does pretty well with the underwritten role.
The Burning is thoughtful and deliberate, and what it lacks in pace it makes up for with strong performances. The slow build of the story won’t be to everyone’s taste but even in its quieter moments you can marvel at the gorgeous cinematography. There’s no doubt that Gael Garcia Bernal carries the movie but director Pablo Fendrik should be given credit for putting a new twist on a well-trodden genre.
Watch the trailer for The Burning below: