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Glasgow Film Festival 2024: The Burning Season ★★★★



Released: 2024 (Glasgow Film Festival)

Director: Sean Garrity

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

The burning embers of flames provide an interesting background at the outset of the Canadian film The Burning Season which unfolds in reverse chronological order. Reminiscent of the structure utilised within Memento, however, The Burning Season embeds, within its narrative, a story of a passionate, illicit romantic relationship and those fiery images displayed in the early scenes soon become danger warning signs and red flags.

The film’s title is indeed that play on words portraying the perilous summer scenes where forest fires may be de rigueur and the passionate summer interaction between Alena and JB whose paths only cross at junctures during the summer months. Thus, the film is part drama, part mystery which allows the Burning Season to captivate audiences by drip feeding clues as to the characters’ background connections and their messy lives which lead to such an explosive opening scene.

The Burning Season neatly divides itself in to four key chapters depicting pivotal events within Alena and JB’s interactions with the intense chemistry between actors Sara Canning and Jonas Chernick being a compelling draw. It is initially revealed that Aleana and JB are intensely drawn to each other but Aleana is on holiday with her husband at the summer camp that JB owns. The tension and psychological complexity of the storyline is thus ignited with the audience already being privy to part of the story and the knowledge that Aleana and JB’s union is potentially devastating. Still, all of these elements add to the intrigue created by director Sean Garrity and writers Jonas Chernick and Diana Frances. As one may say, the detail is in the minutiae with each part seeking to fill in the gaps and flesh out this gripping tale.

The Burning Season excels in many aspects – it has a strong cast to keep audiences engaged, strong writing and direction and it would be remiss not to mention its superb location. Set at the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, the stunning cinematography of the serene, beautiful lake at the camp, that the couples visit, lends a stylish aesthetic to the quality of the film. There is a calm, breath-taking reaction to the lake as the antithesis to the incendiary nature of the actions that Aleana and JB seem to be compelled to take. The location was important to Garrity and in many ways is a key character within the plot as that connecting thread for Aleana and JB.

Indeed, Aleana and JB are bound together by a secret which Garrity forces the audience to piece together, chapter by chapter similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Whilst it is known how one image of the final outcome may be, Garrity wishes for us to do the work and the research to get to know Aleana and JB and to know their motivations – as so many of our destructive behavioural patterns may stem from childhood issues.

Garrity does not justify Aleana and JB’s actions and it is pleasing to see a non stereotypical role for the lead female character. The Burning Season is Aleana’s story, which is mainly told from her perspective with a feminine lens boldly highlighted. There are many lingering glances, emotions and words unspoken as Canning impressively conveys a complex protagonist and this is very much her film. Human emotions are complex but The Burning Season does not present a clear solution to the unfolding drama with many simmering desires manifesting themselves and the film therefore eschews the conventions of a simple, romantic drama.

The Burning Season could also work well on the stage – its chapter structure would resemble plays such as Closer and Hello/ Goodbye which only have scenes of hopeful and destructive interactions between couples. The level of psychological drama will also provide that substance with such a good screenplay which will keep audiences engrossed and guessing until the end or is it the beginning? The Burning Season is a mesmerising, intense but exciting watch with an original premise exposing the messiness of the human condition but with that intoxicating blend of hope.

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