“Burma” is a laurelly perplexing picture necessitating situational, as well as artistic, consideration in review. The project arrived at the Sarasota festival abuzz, fresh off its narrative adornment at SXSW and riding the breaking story of lead, Christopher Abbott’s departure from “Girls”- the success of which emphasized his work preceding the film. The accolade-driven notoriety induced both elevated interest and scrutiny.
Upon screening, it’s free of brazen detractions against the characteristics the movie was lauded for: chiefly tangible characters that realistically respond to abnormally stringent emotional stress. Director Carlos Puga presents a humanistic exposition on the variations of coping with grief, and all three siblings deal with their father’s departure in a relatable, character-appropriate manner. This tonal consistency is curiously both the great strength and contributing weakness of the film. Puga fittingly rides out the mood through the driver’s seat of Abbott’s character Christian, whom is an underlyingly angry, aspiring writer’s-blocked author with a foreboding coke habit. The long-lost return of the his dad and subsequent observance of his sibling’s reactions serves as the window into Christian’s lingering abandonment affects, and the treatment of these and his resulting actions, and reactions, are even and inherently logical. The three children and their father all feel livened through the acting, and I took away the distinct feel that I knew them- a decided accomplishment in just over 80 minutes.
But that’s where my first issue arises; I do feel like I know them, and it seems too much of their behavior, statements and evolution is insular to the greater idea of who they are and how they think. How could their father, whom is a Dickens-looking, martial arts-practicing psychologist that managed to tragically/romantically relocate to Burma, “find nothing quaint” after marrying a literary hippie with a Shakespearian-like commitment to vows? The film opens with encouraging dialogue directed to the three children, particularly Christian (since the first shot’s of him,) and these words predictably magnify in significance in attachment with the movie’s closing scene. There’s a discordance in the word’s themselves and the emotional effect they’re supposed to serve. As an outside observer, I don’t feel as if the family has received an adequate amount of substance, outside of a bafflingly long over due explanation of motive and parting observations, that’s capable of the redemptive insinuation produced.
My second qualm returns to the mood that never wavers, even when it should. I was effectively grasped by the film’s opening events, juxtaposition of gritty and clean shots, characters and plot, but the attrition of interest set in when Puga married the film’s development to emotional expectance through Christian’s demeanor, instead of more poignant action. I became increasingly divested in his development, and angst, which caused the last third to feel twice as long as the first.
The decoration of “Burma” feels like the indie cinema equivalent of government legislation; you can understand the logic, perspective and accept ratification, but not without begrudgement and grumbling over a more fitting alternative. I haven’t screened the majority of SXSW’s field, but I’d like my categorical victor to stay on its feet for a full 12 rounds. As it is it’s a quality fighter whose successful early flurries gassed it for the later stages.