A celebrity chef burns himself out after his partner loses her battle with cancer.
One can only imagine how harrowing it must be to discover that your loved one has a terminal illness and then watch her waste away before your very eyes. Writer/director and co-producer Jonathan Teplitzky experienced it first hand about a decade ago with his partner Amanda, to whom his third film Burning Man is dedicated. And while this tragic experience forms the pivotal event around which the film turns, it’s what happened in the year following her death that makes this fractured tale such a thrill to behold.
The doe-eyed English actor Matthew Goode plays Tom, a crack chef who careers around the streets of Sydney in his VW beetle gathering the finest ingredients to concoct delicious meals for the discerning guests in his popular Bondi restaurant. Under stress, prone to road rage and constantly on the phone, it’s inevitable that he should come unstuck, and he does so early on in a spectacular slow motion car crash.
From here we flash back and forward and round about, catching snippets of Tom’s life as he tries to get it on with a series of women including Rachel Griffiths as a therapist named Miriam, and Kate Beahan as a prostitute called Lesley. Kerry Fox also has Tom under her watchful gaze as Sally, the maitre’d of his restaurant, as does Essie Davis who plays his sister-in-law Karen. But it’s Bojana Novakovic as the ethereal Sarah, the woman he randomly bumps into in a bar and falls deeply in love with, who forever holds his heart. And it’s her memory that he must reconcile in order to move on.
This is a really gorgeous film structured in a way that keeps you wondering how it will all pan out. We’re not spoon-fed a predictable narrative. Instead we’re drawn in to a deeply emotional journey underscored by the seductive compositions of Lisa Gerrard, formerly of the group Dead Can Dance.
Oscar winning costume designer Lizzie Gardener does a great job with the outfits of the various characters and cinematographer Gary Phillips frames them all in unusual and stylish shots that might not necessarily provide continuity in the real world but serve the story beautifully. Anyone who’s been lucky enough to dine at Sean’s Panaroma will recognise the location for Tom’s beachside restaurant but instead of revelling in the famous Bondi vista on its doorstep, Phillips turns his camera inland to find fresh and more interesting compositions.
Phillips shot Teplitzky’s previous films Better Than Sex and Getting’ Square and here gives us a vision of life and death that exudes in turn beauty and tragedy. The recurring scene on the deserted beach where the couple are perhaps happiest is simply idyllic while the car crash that bookends the film is a shocking study in suspended violence.
Teplitzky’s brother Martin is a renowned chef working in Northern Italy and was obviously a key inspiration for the character of Tom. By merging Martin’s story with his own, Jonathan has created something so intimate and personal, that you’d have to be seriously hard hearted to resist it’s emotional impact.Get Burning Man