Genre: Drama, Western
Directed by: Pablo Fendrik
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Alice Braga, Chico Díaz
Not even the bewitching backdrop of the Argentine rainforest and the spirit of Sergio Leone’s stylised violence is enough to captivate you when watching Pablo Fendrik’s disappointingly dull jungle western.
Wandering from the wilderness like a cross between Mowgli and one of Clint Eastwood’s lone gunslingers comes Kaí (Gael García Bernal), a mysterious shaman of few words who’s searching for employment. He’s soon hired to work the land of a local tobacco farm. However, after a band of murderous mercenaries led by the maniacal Tarquinho (Claudio Tolcachir) shoot the farmer, kidnap his beautiful daughter Vania (Alice Braga) and take over the property, Kaí must once more venture into the forest on a quest to rescue Vania and exact retribution against her abductors.
Fendrik cited the spaghetti westerns as a key source of inspiration when making The Burning. And certainly, particularly in the fierce final shootout, you can see the shadow of Leone and Eastwood’s seminal genre series. However, there are many other creative catalysts to be spotted within this revenge romp: Kaí’s use of jungle warfare is evocative of Rambo; his rough-and-tumble rivals reminiscent of the rednecks in John Boorman’s Deliverance. There’s even a moment where we see the victim of a vicious jungle creature dragged away in a Spielbergian shot that’s suggestive of Jurassic Park.What’s frustrating is that despite such strong ingredients, Fendrik fails to serve up a substantial whole. Both the plot and the pacing are uneven. Long lethargic scenes that see Kaí form a semi-spiritual relationship with the rainforest are interspersed between the short bursts of action. The sudden inclusion of a blossoming romance between Kaí and Vania, which inevitably leads to a moist and muddy sex scene, seems to have been strategically shoehorned in to solely help enliven the sluggish tempo.
Crucial character development is fatefully forgotten about. Claudio Tolcachir’s villain is suitably vicious, and even comes complete with standard issue amounts of suspicious facial hair, but he’s never afforded enough screen time to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. Similarly, Gael García Bernal offers a functionally enigmatic performance as Kaí, but the only personality trait he’s given to work with is a notable lack of clothes and an ability to communicate with a show-stealing jaguar.
Only Julián Apezteguia’s wondrous, wide-lensed cinematography makes an impact. The sweeping shots of dense forestation, shrouded in mist, laced with mystery and suffused with the sharp tones of Sebastián Escofet’s orchestral score help facilitate an environment of seething humidity. It’s the only time in this otherwise benign B-movie that Fendrik even comes close to delivering on the fiery promise of his title.