The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - THE BURNING SEASON | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2024 Review - THE BURNING SEASON

The Burning Season review
A reverse chronicle of a doomed love affair.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sean Garrity

Starring: Jonas Chernick, Sara Canning, Tanisha Thammavongsa, Joe Pingue, Natalie Jane, Christian Meer

The Burning Season poster

Mumblecore didn't die, it just emigrated to Canada. In recent years a distinctive indie scene has emerged north of the 49th Parallel, increasingly centred around actor/writer/producer Jonas Chernick. Penned by Chernick and co-writer Diana Frances and directed by Sean Garrity, The Burning Season takes its cues from a classic of Canadian indie cinema, Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, by unspooling its narrative in reverse chronological order. Though in retracing the steps of a doomed relationship, it has more in common with Francois Ozon's 5x2.

The film opens with a prologue that is simultaneously a flashback and a flash forward. Two panicked teenagers stand before a burning cabin. "You can't ever tell anyone about this," the girl, Alena (Natalie Jane), pleads. The boy, Benny (Christian Meer) agrees, though he's clearly distressed.

The Burning Season review

We then cut to 25 years from this event, to the first of seven chapters that will work their way back to this prologue. It's the wedding day of Benny, who now goes under the name JB (played by Chernick), and Poppy (Tanisha Thammavongsa), the mother of his infant child. When Alena (played as an adult by Sara Canning) arrives with her husband Tom (Joe Pingue), JB is immediately unsettled by her presence. "Why did you come?" he asks. "Why did you invite me?" she indignantly replies. To cope with the stress, JB hits the coke, causing a scene during the nuptials and getting into a scrap with Tom, who suddenly sees in JB and Alena's eyes that he's been betrayed.

Each subsequent chapter takes us back a year to the two week period of every summer that Alena and Tom stay in one of the rental cabins owned and managed by JB. Each summer JB and Alena vow not to act on their desires, but they always end up engaging in secret sex sessions in the woods. As we edge closer to that prologue we learn a little bit more about what JB/Benny and Alena went through as teens, and why they've been bonded by a mix of trauma and mutual desire ever since. We learn perhaps a little too much, which makes the final act, i.e. the prologue, a tad underwhelming in its lack of an mpactful reveal.

The Burning Season review

With its repetition of a single scenario over several scenes, The Burning Season could have fallen into the trap that ensnares many films that adopt a Groundhog Day narrative, that of making the audience sit through the same scenes with little variation. That each new chapter feels fresh here is largely down to the talents of Chernick and Canning, whose performances keep us invested in the story of JB and Alena. Both Chernick and Canning are as adept with comedy as drama, which makes them naturals for The Burning Season's tragi-comic demands. We know JB and Alena really need to move on and avoid one another, but at the same time we find them charming together, none more so than a comic relief moment involving a bat that plays like a homage to Annie Hall's lobster scene. Chernick is blessed with features that are both hangdog and handsome, allowing him to switch quickly from the charismatic man Alena can't stay away from to the troubled soul she has clearly inflicted a life of trauma upon. Canning is very good at playing women who exude a tough shell but are crumbling on the inside, making her perfect for the role of Alena, who spends the movie convincing herself she's in control when she's clearly a mess.

Jane and Meer are equally excellent as the teenage Alena and Benny. I don't know if the adult scenes were shot first, allowing the younger stars to study Chernick and Canning, but it certainly feels like that was the case. Jane and Meer nail the distinctive mannerisms of the older actors, though they avoid mere impersonations.

The Burning Season review

Any movie that employs a reverse chronology prompts the question of whether such an approach is vital or simply a gimmick. I'm not entirely convinced that The Burning Season would lose anything in storytelling terms if it played its drama in chronological order, but it would likely be far less interesting to observe the performances of two actors doing a fine job of peeling away the layers of their characters.

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