Burning Man

Australia | 2011 | Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky

Logline: A young father struggles to keep his job, his various relationships, and most importantly his sanity from falling apart as he deals with a personal crisis.

Grief can do terrible things to a person. It is also a powerful emotion capable of transcendent healing. Love can do wonderful things to a person. It is also a dangerous emotion capable of blurring one’s vision and causing irrational and reckless behaviour. Cinematic narrative is an extraordinary device, capable of transporting a viewer on a roller coaster ride of intense, exhilarating, and soul-wrenching feelings and emotions.

Tom (Matthew Goode) is an ex-pat English chef working in a successful Sydney restaurant near the beach, Sydney’s most famous beach in fact, Bondi. He is both driven and highly-strung. He has a young son, Oscar (Jack Henly), who he loves dearly. He also has several women in his world, some he likes, some he dislikes, some he loves, and some he just fucks. To say he’s a womaniser would be too easy a label. Let’s just say he’s complicated.

Tom has a beautiful wife Sarah (Bojana Novakovic), but there is trouble in paradise. Burning Man is Tom’s tale; a tale that wags like a dog, swishes like a cat, and is sometimes tucked between his legs. Tom is burning the candle at both ends and the wax is splashing on his skin. He is crying out. As the tagline says, “Don’t go so far out that you can’t find your way back.”

Jonathan Teplitzky also wrote the screenplay. This is his third feature and it’s easily his most accomplished work. It pulsates with a dramatic vitality and dynamic sense of narrative adventure. The key element is the non-linear narrative, this is what makes Tom’s story so compelling, so intriguing, and so satisfying to watch. Like a puzzle his joy and sadness pieces together slowly and surely. It’s a sad story, but it is punctuated with a genuine sense of humour.

Movies with such stylised presentation often come undone, or simply fall out of the starting blocks. Burning Man ignites with a ferocious energy and never lets up. Beautiful shot by Garry Phillips it depicts a Sydney not often seen, yet so familiar to those who live here. The performances are dynamite it’s hard to actually single any out; suffice to say that Matthew Goode being the fish far out of water (geographically, that is) triumphs. The cast includes Essie Davis, Rachel Griffiths, Anthony Hayes, Dan Wyllie, Kate Behan, Gia Carides, plus three Kiwis, Simone Kessell, Robyn Malcolm, and Kerry Fox. It’s a striking, talented bunch indeed.

Tom is trying to get himself together and with the help of his friends and the love of his son he might just make it back from the brink. Burning Man is one of the best Australian features of the past decade, blistered hands down, reminding us that it’s not just the story, it’s how you tell it.