“The Burning Plain” is a drama that explores the mysterious connection between several characters separated by time and space: Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl trying to put together the shattered lives of her parents in a Mexican border town; Sylvia (Charlize Theron), a woman in Portland who must undertake an emotional odyssey to burnish a sin from her past; Gina, Sylvia’s mother (Kim Basinger) and Nick (Joaquim de Almeida), a couple who must deal with an intense and clandestine affair; and Maria (Tessa Ia), a young girl who helps her parents find redemption, forgiveness and love.
The film is the first of five U.S. entries to appear in the main competition at the Venice Film Festival.
“The Burning Plain” is the directorial debut by acclaimed Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga who is best known for his scripts that include well received dramas “Amores perros“, “21 Grams” and “Babel“, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. Arriaga also wrote “The Burning Plain.”
“I enjoyed every single moment of it. I can tell you that directing was maybe the happiest moment of my professional life. Just arriving on set I had a smile … and it hasn’t vanished until now”
he told reporters.
As well as time, the film explores the elements, each storyline represents either earth, air, fire or water. Landscape is central to the movie which Arriaga initially had titled, “The Four Elements.” Water, earth, wind and fire are present as the story moves back and forth from the searing dryness of New Mexico to the nonstop rain in Portland, Ore.
“We experienced the desert and the sun and the extreme cold in the desert to the nonstop rain in Oregon. I think the weather and the landscape also influences the character.”
“We never in real life tell stories in a linear way. We tell it always in a decomposed way. I think that cinema is a very young medium and it’s beginning to find its own language and among these languages is the deconstruction of time”
It also deals with death.
“I have been obsessed with the weight of death over the living ones. My identity is constructed by the people that I love, by the people that surround me. Every time one dies, part of my identity is broken and lost. I am obsessed at how that loss of someone that I love affects my own identity.”
Theron, who plays the emotionally-scarred Sylvia in “The Burning Plain”, was also a producer on the film.
“I don’t have to do it every time, but it’s something that I really enjoy when I feel I meet people where we’re like-minded and we walk the same road and tell the same story.”
Basinger, who plays Sylvia in the movie, was not at the press conference in Venice. The movie is told through four converging plot lines, and cuts back and forth through time to reveal Sylvia’s story.
“This is the exploration of the mystery of a woman called Sylvia who has an emotional journey that takes her to the extremes. It explores what makes her so damaged”
The film, is one of 21 movies competing for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded Sept. 6. Other U.S. films in competition in Venice include “Rachel Getting Married“, directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme and starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger, and “The Wrestler” with Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Kathryn Bigelow also presents Iraq war drama “The Hurt Locker“.