27 Jan

Title: Biutiful
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone
Javier Bardem, Blanca Portillo, Maricel Álvarez, Rubén Ochandiano
MPAA Rating:
R, disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use
147 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

I’m writing this review a day after the Academy Award nominations were announced, but I saw the actual film several weeks before this, and have seen it two more times since. I’ve been raving about Javier Bardem’s performance here for quite a while now, and hearing his name as a nominee for Best Lead Actor, the first time a performance in a foreign language has been nominated for that award, was a great way to start the week.

Because, really, the stuff on display by Mr. Bardem here is a thing of absolute beauty, my fifth favorite performance given by a male lead actor in all 2010, one in a film that’s so damn bleak and dark that it really needed a performance like this to get us through the journey. Because many people have turned off Biutiful or left the theater after a while because they weren’t able to fully watch it, which is a pity, because as hard as it may get to watch at times, it’s incredibly rewarding at the end, and all the support Mr. Bardem is getting from fellow actors and friends like Julia Roberts and Sean Penn is extremely deserved.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a pretty masterful craftsman, you look at all four of his films, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and now Biutiful, and you know this is a guy who can handle some pretty heavy topics and create something amazingly compelling with them, something never far from brilliant, and always getting some extraordinary performances from his actors.

Biutiful deals with a man, Uxbal, and looks at him as he knows the end of his life is near, and must do everything to provide a safe future for his children and leave everything he has worked for in order. And in the end there’s hope to be found in Biutiful, a film that has in Mr. Bardem a leading man that was willing to go deep down inside and fetch some really raw emotions that make this film feel like a wonderful poem about life. The shots here are just gorgeous, the details, everything, you just feel this was a work of love from all involved. Gloomy as hell, yes, but also beautifully intimate and, ultimately, absolutely riveting.

There’s something cool about having the actor here be Mr. Bardem and having the city be Barcelona. I say that because, as it’s been mentioned in a few interviews, this film shows the absolute opposite side of the city than the one that was shown in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the Woody Allen film that also starred the Spaniard thespian. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona we saw beautiful colors, beautiful women and beautiful places, in Biutiful the color palette is darker, full of blues and dark oranges, and so are the stories we found, with Uxbal being a very special sort of criminal in the Barcelona underworld. And while the film deals quite a lot with death, you just sense so much life coming out of it.

And how Mr. Bardem plays Uxbal is what ultimately makes this film hit so deep, what makes it stand out from being just a dark moody film. His Uxbal is a guy who could have been played straightforward by a lesser actor and the result wouldn’t have been as astounding, it’s in the complexities and layers that Mr. Bardem adds to the character in which we truly find the richness of Biutiful.

Uxbal, you see, is indeed a criminal, a guy who lives in a zone full of immigrants and has his hands all over many illegal businesses, but he can also communicate with the souls of the recently deceased, which he does, for a price, to alleviate mourning families. He’s a good guy, he really is, and he has the best intentions for the people that surround him. And, most importantly, he’s a dedicated father to their two children, of whom he has full custody of since their mother is really something.

In Mr. Iñárritu’s first three films, which were all written by Guillermo Arriaga with Mr. Iñárritu pitching in as a co-writer in Babel and that were dubbed the ‘Death Trilogy’, he used intertwining story lines and multiple narratives, and for those films, that worked insanely well. But here in Biutiful, his first film without Mr. Arriaga, he decides to focus on just one man, on Uxbal, who discovers he’s dying from cancer. And in focusing on just one man, and in having such a talented actor playing that man, he manages to create scenes of beautiful depth, filmed with handheld cameras and showcasing lovely colors that suit the film perfectly.

And while his first project without Mr. Arriaga has Mr. Iñárritu tackling only a single story, it doesn’t mean he’s going to start focusing on other themes that much. This is still a very sad story, focusing on a man who doesn’t have the best of outlooks. And what I thought was great was the fact that Mr. Iñárritu didn’t work that hard to explain Uxbal to us, most of that discovery is left to us, the audience, to try and understand why Uxbal is the way he is, to try and understand the people in his life.

I understand why some people are saying Biutiful was too grim for them to endure, because it honestly is, and as amazing as I personally thought this was, this is a hard film to recommend because I know deep inside more people than not won’t agree with me. But still, please try and get over the eerie atmosphere and moody outlook and allow yourself to follow Mr. Bardem in his very human exploration of a character, Uxbal is a hero trapped in a situation he knows he can’t get out of, and it’s an amazing journey to be a part of.

The music by Gustavo Santaolalla, the way it was shot by Rodrigo Prieto, every single element comes together here to make a thing of sheer beauty. And trust me, if you’re able to get through seeing Biutiful fully, then the first thing you’ll want to do once you’re done is to see it again, to fully appreciate the intricate subjects that Mr. Iñárritu touches upon here, and realize that even though this may be his simplest film yet narrative-wise, it’s probably the hardest one he’s done as far as studying emotions and situations.

Grade: A


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