Massachusetts Daily Collegian

“Biutiful” is a smash

By Brian Canova

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After 2006’s “Babel,” a discouraging and overcomplicated cinematic miscarriage, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu returns to the caliber set by his fantastic earlier films with “Biutiful,” a melancholy film as much about dying as it is about living. Heart-wrenching for all of its 148 minutes, you’ll walk out of “Biutiful” ready to live life.

Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men, Vicky Christina Barcelona) stars as Uxbal, a divorced father, noticeably tortured from the first moment we meet him. When he’s diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and given but months to live, Uxbal must wrestle with the decision of whose care to place his two young children in. Unable to entrust them with his estranged wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) a late night masseuse with a history of drugs, alcohol, and untreated manic depression. Uxbal juggles this dilemma throughout the film while at the same time balancing the daily hustle of the Barcelona underground in order to pay the rent and put food on the table.

The Barcelona of “Biutiful” is not one of glamour and enchantment, as it was in Bardem’s last on-screen appearance before the backdrop of this city in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Rather, it is shot in the gritty underbelly of Barcelona’s tenements, sweatshops, and apartments. The filmmaker’s contrasting use of oceanside vistas, shots of glassy rolling waves, and a woodsy dreamlike sequence that opens the film round out the familiar feel of Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography whom Inarritu has used on his last four projects.

The camera is turned on Bardem for almost the entire film, but the audience never tires of his dark and enigmatic Oscar-nominated performance. Bardem’s performance is raw and heartbreakingly real as Inarritu effectively captures Uxbal’s city through the eyes of a dying man. It’s the little things Inarritu uses to embrace his ambitious attempt at capturing the beauty, fragility and meaning of life that set this film apart and strike a resounding emotional chord, such as when Uxbal, an otherwise tight enforcer of dinner table etiquette joins his daughter, son, and ex-wife in eating melted ice cream with their fingers.

Most every element of the film is tragic, and even in fleeting moments of excitement and celebration the film’s somber tone always lingers close at hand. Every scene and every shot is rich with emotional detail offering constant insight into the subtle nuances of each of Inarritu’s characters. The film, which from it’s original conception, writing process, and to the end of filming took all of three years to complete, is reflective of this in the attention the director pays to his characters, the layered intricacy, and sophisticated multiple-narrative technique viewers have come to expect from Inarritu.

The juxtaposition of Uxbal’s line of work and the tender loving care he provides for his children temporarily ameliorates his morally bankrupt day to day work of middle-manning between indentured Asian sweat shop workers and the construction site that employs their cheap labor, and coordinating African immigrants in the street-side peddling of knock-off handbags. The audience is able to let this slide for the better part of the movie until a deeply disturbing catastrophe changes the entire perspective.

The film is not without its flaws. While the lens is for the most part focused on Bardem, supplemental story lines of a family of African immigrants and a romance between two gay, Asian men feel out of place and distracting, notably the latter. In addition Uxbal’s ability to on occasion speak with ghosts adds an additional metaphysical layer of complexity that may be difficult to digest with everything else that’s going on in the film.

While Inarritu will redeem himself in the eyes of many with “Biutiful,” the film owes much of its quality to Bardem’s gripping and jaded performance. From Bardem’s calm and cool drag off a cigarette in the opening scene to his quiet departure later on, he gives himself completely to the role of Uxbal, embodying this character in a manner few others could have come anywhere close to.

Brian Canova can be reached at [email protected].

1 Comment

One Response to ““Biutiful” is a smash”

  1. Ava on February 25th, 2011 5:24 pm

    inarritu is so awesome! his stuff is always so powerful. i was googling him the other day and found out that he did these commercials about meth that i always see on tv! http://www.idahomethproject.org/TV seriously, he’s such a great director with a talent for showing the gritty parts of life!

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