Screened as part of NZIFF 2006
Tommy Lee Jones’ remarkable directorial début (in which he also stars) possesses the epic spaces, the muscular narrative and the male camaraderie of the great westerns, but its sensibility is decidedly modern and fresh. If Brokeback Mountain was the revisionist western to address homophobia, Burials, written by Mexican Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, 21 Grams), dismantles the racism endemic in the genre. It also suggests that the most ornery of individualists can be capable of tenderness and grace. As Cannes juror Salma Hayek remarked, the film is ‘set in a macho world where they don’t act according to macho stereotypes – where men deal with men in a real way’.
Jones plays the individualist in question, a ranch hand living near the Mexican border. When his best friend, illegal immigrant Melquiades Estrada, is murdered in the wilderness, he focuses his fury on the local Border Patrol authorities, who are unwilling to investigate the death of ‘just another’ Mexican illegal. Arriaga won an award at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival for his vividly detailed screenplay, while Jones took the best actor prize.
“A big-hearted, grand and noble study of broken men and broken dreams, Three Burials is cruel and comic, exquisitely photographed by Chris Menges and pleasingly old-fashioned in its commitment to elemental, vital storytelling. Tommy Lee Jones has delivered a great American tale.” — Dave Calhoun, Time Out
“Incisive yet supple, wrenching yet deeply pleasurable, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada easily ranks among the year’s best pictures.” — Kevin Thomas, LA Times