Let’s begin at the beginning, which, in this case, is a bravura opening sequence presenting a scene from a visually aggressive, abstract stage play delivered entirely in angry Polish without subtitles. Disorienting? You bet. One can imagine viewers in a theater wondering if they wandered into the wrong film. And I was wondering if Netflix sent me the wrong disc. This, of course, is precisely the effect Burn Country’s writer Paul Fetlen and director Ian Olds are aiming to achieve. Why? Because the filmmakers are looking to establish a profound identification between the audience’s perspective and that of the film’s protagonist, an asylum-seeking Afghani interpreter who is looking to understand the alien culture into which he has been thrust. The story then presents that alien culture, a tight-knit rural community in Northern California which is as “other” for most of the audience as it is for the interpreter Oman, played with great subtlety by Dominic Rains. Initially, Oman is defined by his admirable, open-minded curiosity. But before we realize it, we are seeing though the eyes of a man who also possesses a formidable skill set acquired as a combat reporter and war zone “fixer” capable of providing access to otherwise inaccessible people and places. So armed, we gradually come to understand the NoCal community’s personalities, relationships and values. It ain’t a pretty place, as those values tend to revolve around drinking, drugs, violence, inbreeding, misogyny and ignorance. However, and it’s a huge HOWEVER, the community has one saving grace, which Oman discovers at the film’s climax: a nearly inconceivable capacity for forgiveness. This idea is one I’ve thought about at length over the years, for I come from a Northern New Jersey town which is every bit as tribal – if not as rural – as the Northern California community represented in the film. I believe that these communities’ capacity to forgive almost any transgression derives from the fact that the folks in such communities are so fallible that if forgiveness weren’t an option, then their social structures would unravel entirely. In other words, the communities would dissolve altogether in cycles of retributive violence. And so, these crude, angry people manage to turn the other cheek in an unconscious sacrifice to the common good. Now, the skillful revelation of that notion is my idea of an emotionally and intellectually satisfying climax for a film. And that’s to say nothing of the fine performances, smart script and insightful direction. Burn Country represents filmmaking of the highest order.
Rating System: The rationale behind the rating system can be found here. Scoring is color coded: Theme : Plot : Character : Dialogue : Acting : Cinematography
Burn Country 5: 4: 5: 4: 5: 3 IMDB