This discerning non-traditional melodrama interlaces four female characters in a non-linear plot that crosses years and borders. A newborn, a 12-year-old, a teenager, a mother of one and a mother of three are played by five different actors. But identifying those characters now would tip off continuities that writer-director Guillermo Arriaga reveals in his own time. His chronology is complicated by its lack of clear markers for the years separating his storylines. Making a fine directing debut, Arriaga covers terrain and crafts the narrative intricacy found in his earlier screenplays for “Babel,” “21 Grams,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” and “Amores Perros.” The opening scene illustrates the title: an isolated trailer in New Mexico is engulfed in a ball of flame. Two corpses are fused as one, reports the sheriff. “The Burning Plain” then shifts to an Oregon restaurant and will end in a Mexican hospital. Most of the film is devoted to a love affair started before the fiery explosion, and another one that starts afterwards. Arriaga plumbs the grief triggered by the burning trailer. Two mourners forge an erotic bond by holding their arms by a blistering flame. Mortifying flesh is how Arriaga shows women memorializing loss. Charlize Theron plays a Portland restaurant manager who burns her thigh with lit cigarettes. Kim Basinger plays a New Mexico mother with a mastectomy scar. And a patch of desert is blackened with a scar. With Joaquim De Almeida, Danny Pino, Jose Maria Yazpik, Jennifer Lawrence, Tessa Ia, JD Pardo and John Corbett. 111m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.