Film Review: We Burn Like This

by Director Alana WaksmanFREESTYLE DIGITAL MEDIA
reviewed by Eric Hillis
We Burn Like This

When an angry man throws a beer bottle from his truck and yells “Go back to your own country!” at young roommates Rae (Madeleine Coghlan) and Chrissy (Devery Jacobs), it’s unclear which of the two is the intended target of his bigotry. Is it the Native American Chrissy, whose people defiantly returned to Montana despite being forced South? Or could it be the Jewish Rae, a descendant of Holocaust survivors who has lost touch with her heritage?

Rae seems to believe it’s the former, until she finds a flyer warning of the “Jewish run media” taped to her front door. Did everyone in the neighborhood receive the same flyer or was she singled out? Having not given much thought to her background, Rae finds herself on a path to reconnecting with her faith. Microaggressions, like an ex-boyfriend complaining that the portrait she painted of him makes him look “Jew-eyed,” begin to make Rae all too aware of her outsider status.

When Chrissy ditches Rae for a new boyfriend, Rae turns to nights drinking alone in local bars. There she meets Wolf (Andrew Rizzo), a 40-something drug dealer who likes to get high on his own supply. The not-so-subtly named Wolf might as well be draped in a red flag, but Rae falls for him, her attraction cemented when she reveals the burn scars on her chest from a childhood incident and he barely bats an eyelid.

Addicted to oxycontin and barely able to function without alcohol, Rae hits rock bottom and returns to her mother (Casidee Riley). There she begins to examine scars of both a physical and mental nature. Rae learns the truth of how she was burned and delves into the history of her great-grandmother, who escaped a concentration camp. Unlike her mother, who has kept her faith a secret so as not to stand out, Rae begins to defiantly embrace her Jewish identity.

Writer/director Alana Waksman, whose own grandparents were Holocaust survivors, was inspired to make her feature debut when she began to experience antisemitic taunts in the weeks following the 2016 election of Donald Trump. All of her fears, frustration and anger have made it onto the screen in the form of Rae, embodied in striking fashion by Coghlan.

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