Francisco Franco’s feature film debut Burn the Bridges reads like a cliché buffet: incest, homoeroticism, broken family, death and abuse. How many other social problems can really be crammed into a film? Though reading the description is likely to make the seasoned viewer turn a cheek but there was something about the trailer that suggested more than just cliché’s and thankfully, I was listening to my inner voice that day.
Franco’s story unfolds with Sebastián and Helena, a brother and sister, looking after their dying mother, a former pop singer. When we join the duo, it’s clear that mom has been sick for some time and the two, though mostly Helena, have been caring for the woman who is slowly wasting away for some time. They live in a sprawling mansion which is slowly falling apart but even after their mother’s eventual death, the two find it difficult to move away.
Helena is the leader. She makes every effort to look out for her brother and dreams of traveling with Sebastián to far off places like Montreal. Sebastián is more of a free spirit. An artist, his relationship with Helena begins to splinter when he falls for the new boy in town and the resulting relationship threatens to pull him away from Helena. The drama that ensues when Helena realizes that her brother is attracted to men, turns physical and nearly means the end of their relationship but in the end, blood is thicker than anything and the two do manage to find a sort of understanding.
Though the aforementioned clichés riddle the story, they don’t bog down the film for one main reason: the performances. It’s no surprise that Irene Azuela’s performance won her a Best Actress credit at the Ariel Awards in Mexico. Her performance could have gone into melodrama but she’s earnest and continually pulls back just as she’s about to cross into the melodrama that doesn’t suit either the tone or story. She’s magnetic when on screen and even when the camera lingers on the other characters with her out of frame, there’s a constant pull towards her that’s hard to deny. In contrast, Ángel Onésimo Nevares’ Sebastián is much more naïve and there’s a sense that he is incapable of looking after himself and although his character does change dramatically as the film progresses, it doesn’t feel as authentic as Helena’s growth.
There are some problems with the story, mostly related to the fact that Franco and co-writer María Renée Prudencio try to squeeze in too many issues when the fact that Sebastián and Helena are taking care of their dying mother provides more than enough drama for the film’s running time. Most of the film’s detrimental clichés come from these minor dramas when they could have been avoided by narrowing the story. However, there are some gorgeous visuals that are not likely to disappear any time soon – primarily the moment in which Sebastián frantically paints the sea which he has never seen.
Burn the Bridges is a beautiful film and even with the problems, it’s well worth searching out if only for Azuela’s magnetic performance and the gorgeous look of the film. I can’t wait to see more of this talented actress as well as from director Francisco Franco who has come out the door with a great first film.
Fassbender for life.