Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky
Opens July 27, IFC Center
The high-sheen Australian drama Burning Man leans heavily on a scrambled chronology, and likewise feels tonally mixed up, but it certainly does keep you guessing. The movie begins with out-of-order, borderline-hallucinatory scenes from the life of stressed-out haute-cuisine chef Tom (Matthew Goode). He moves from one liaison to another while largely ignoring his eight-year-old son, Oscar (Jack Heanly), but early on we see Tom humbled: A bush-league traffic maneuver results in a T-bone collision, leaving him in potentially critical condition. Shortly thereafter, the film rummages through Tom's recollections of a more distant (but still recent) past, revealing that his beloved wife, Sarah (Bojana Novakovic)—also Oscar's mother—was taken before her time, after a long bout with cancer. The character of Sarah naturally comes bathed in a warmer light than any of the peripheral female characters (including a forthright therapist played by Rachel Griffiths), but writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky nonetheless steers clear of the comfort clichés that have plagued so many movies about beautiful women on the way out. In disconnected moments we glimpse a relatively bullshit-free (and affecting) assessment of the interfamilial toll of Sarah's illness—in one scene, she snaps at her son but immediately tries to soft-pedal it. But Burning Man, ultimately an examination of a wild grieving process, is otherwise distinguished by its slapdash architecture: It is, in essence, a romantic tearjerker—more emotionally manipulative for its jury-rigged narrative structure than for any drippy sentiment on-screen—soldered to a high-heat chronicle of reckless behavior.