You Burn Me review – Sappho and suffering in a macabre meditation on desire and death

Estimated read time 2 min read

The three words “you burn me” are a surviving fragment (or micro-poem) by Sappho, and make up the title of this hour-long reverie from the Argentinian film-maker Matías Piñeiro, a multilayered essay or dramatised exchange musing on the nature of death, desire and love. It is, in fact, an adaptation of the chapter Sea Foam from the Italian author Cesare Pavese’s 1947 volume Dialogues With Leucò, which imagines conversations between mythic figures.

This film shows us a dialogue between Sappho (supposed by unreliable romantic myth to have thrown herself into the Ionian sea in the anguish of heartbreak) and the goddess Britomartis, who is imagined to have plunged into the water to escape the pursuit of a man. So they are the exact opposites: in them desire runs in opposite directions. The movie also reflects on the unhappy story of Pavese, a poet, novelist and antifascist from Turin, who experienced depression and took his own life in the city’s Hotel Roma, with a copy of his book on him. He was reportedly devastated after being rejected by Hollywood actor Constance Dowling – who was in turn dejected by her affair with (the married) Elia Kazan. And so the daisy chain of unhappiness continues.

It is a paradox of this coolly musing film that it appears detached from precisely those feelings with which it concerns itself – the fear of, but also longing for, death, which will finally annul the agonies of unrequited love, and the torrential emotions and real-world consequences of love itself. There is a chilling insight into the final torments of Pavese – who chose to die in a hotel, surrounded by outsiders and tourists, in order to be detached from the very city that he loved. This film, in a rather macabre way, gives us modern-day shots of the hotel and its corridors, and the people at the cafe outside, oblivious of the ghosts within.


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