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Uxbal (Javier Bardem) lives in a rundown Barcelona apartment with his
two kids, Ana and Mateo. He's involved with illegal sweat shop
producing knockoffs and selling the goods on the streets. He gets
messages from the dead. He is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
His criminal work gets worst with bodies piling up. He allows Ige and
her baby to stay at his apartment. His kids' drunken mother Marambra
has mental issues and he has nobody to leave them with.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is trying too hard. The subject matter is already dark and complex enough. His style adds even more dark grittiness to this sad depressing movie. Bardem does the gruff and harried character to his best. All of it overwhelms me and I got a bit tired of it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Biutiful is director Alejandro González Iñárritu's attempt at
recapturing the sense of drama his Death trilogy (Amores Perros, 21
Grams and Babel) had. Expectations were high not only because of the
success of the aforementioned films, but because it had been four years
since Babel first graced the big screen. Unfortunately Biutiful doesn't
fully recapture the magic of Iñárritu's previous efforts and this may
simply be because of Melodramatic Overload. Iñárritu always had a knack
for compelling drama, but his films never became melodramatic to the
point that it turned me off. Biutiful pretty much reached that point.
If you thought Detachment was depressing, wait until you revel in the
quagmire that is Biutiful.
We follow Uxbal (played by Javier Bardem) as he tries to make a living for himself and his kids in Barcelona. He has separated from his wife due to her bipolarity and alcoholism, so his kids have no mother; his only immediate family is his brother who works in construction; he earns money by finding work illegal immigrants and managing a group of people who sell fake designer goods; he's diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and he can talk to the dead (with which he earns some money on the side when taking to the recently deceased on behalf of others). To provide further plot info would be to enter spoiler territory, but the above should give you a clear indication of what you can expect: tragedy.
What works is Bardem's magnetic performance which is what convinced me to watch the film from beginning to end and the cinematography which capture Barcelona in a way not seen on postcards, in all its depressive beauty and dreariness. Those who were enamored by the nighttime Tokyo imagery in Babel, will find a lot to like. Also interesting is some of the camera-work during scenes involving the afterlife. The first time Uxbal walks into a room and the camera slowly pans to reveal a man clasping onto pipes on the ceiling with what can be described as an intense look on his face Iñárritu should try his hand at horror, that's all I'm saying. Perhaps the film's highlight is the subplot involving his ex-wife. Despite her bipolarity and alcoholism, she and Uxbal try to repair their relationship and take care of the kids, until Uxbal realizes (again) she cannot be entrusted with this task, despite what she says.
Overall, I think Iñárritu reached the limit of what the audience could take in terms of melodrama. Though reception was positive, in no way did it equal his previous efforts. With Babel, there was an overarching point and a sense of dramatic beauty that this film's title fails to deliver. Although Iñárritu's films deal with themes of death (hence the supernatural element in Biutiful) and mortality, Babel had more to offer (the theme of communication overcoming cultural barriers). Crucially, Biutiful lacks this 'positive element'. It feels more like a melodramatic downward spiral, as opposed to Babel which despite all the drama still offered a positive world-view, because it showed human suffering is universal and it is the point where cultural barriers fade away. It's unsurprising that Iñárritu's next film, Birdman, will be part drama and part comedy, which will be interesting to say the least.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Biutiful, director/producer/writer Alejandro González Iñárritu's fourth film and the first after the completion of his death trilogy with writer Guillermo Arriaga and his first Spanish language film since Amores perros, follows Uxbal (Javier Bardem) as he slowly dies of prostate cancer. The film is set in the more run down parts of Barcelona, which is beautifully captured. Bardem is captivating and brings out all of the complexities and minutiae of his character. Also, it is interesting that composer Gustavo Santaolalla's score for Babel received much more attention than this one, as there is a lot more music and I would argue that it is at least just as good.
Before death, we try to make amends with our earthly abode before
entering the great unknown. We have all these duties and obligations
that we earnestly try to fulfil, and at times its overwhelming, but
having it all lifted is the last step that we oddly struggle with.
Uxbal has a tempestuous mother for his kids, failing health, numerous impoverished families relying on him, and now only months to live. With all stability starting to collapse and brokenness surrounding him, keeping his composure is an insurmountable task, let alone trying to build everything back up. With life soon coming to a sudden halt, acceptance of the universe to still continue on is a hard pill to swallow.
Biutiful is the story of the man who tried. In the end, we finally come upon the realization that we may never be able to fully amend our past...and that's okay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Biutiful' received a slew of mixed
reviews upon its release in 2010. The naysayers found the grim tale of
a doomed underworld 'fixer' Uxbal (played with a quiet intensity by
Javier Barden) to be either too long, heavy-handed or grim for their
tastes. In my view, while 'Biutiful' may not rise to the level of true
tragedy, there are many worthwhile elements in it that may lead one to
conclude that this is a rather well-put together melodrama.
The world that Iñárritu has created rings true. For starters, his protagonist, Uxbal, moves about in a hard-edged section of Barcelona, peopled with immigrants, many engaged in illegal activities to support themselves. Indeed, Uxbal is a middleman for a group of Chinese immigrants who manufacture knockoff handbags. Uxbal also oversees another group of immigrants from Senegal, who are entrusted with selling the knockoffs; but when they turn to selling drugs, and the police move in to bust them, he must find another line of work for the Chinese.
It just so happens that Uxbal and his low-life brother, Tito, are able to make a deal with a construction contractor, after they agree to allow developers to raise a cemetery where their father is buried. The foreman at the construction site agrees to hire the Chinese, even though they have no experience in construction. The beleaguered group are housed in a cold, dank warehouse, where they are soon to meet a most tragic fate.
Two turns in the plot keep the action moving forward. Uxbal is first diagnosed with cancer and he must get his affairs in order so that arrangements are made so that someone will end up taking care of his two young children after he's gone. Uxbal cannot count on his estranged wife, Marambra, who suffers from bipolar disorder and their reconciliation fails, when she leaves their young son home alone (to punish him) after going on a short vacation. Marambra is a great character, played very convincingly by Maricel Álvarez. In a sense, she is the true antagonist in the narrative and thwarts Uxbal in making a stable home for the children.
Another great character is Uxbal's brother, Tito, who represents Uxbal's dark side. Not only does he tempt Uxbal into using drugs at a moment that he is most vulnerable, but Uxbal ultimately discovers that Tito has also been fooling around with Marambra. The pulsating, dark scene in the nightclub highlights the brother's descent into depravity.
The second turn in the plot occurs when Uxbal, thinking of the brutal conditions the Chinese workers are toiling under, decides to buy a bunch of cheap heaters so they can be somewhat warm at the warehouse (he buys only cheap heaters because his financial condition is in dire straits). Tragically, the heaters malfunction and all the workers die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Consumed with grief, Uxbal consults with a friend, a holistic healer, who tells him not to blame himself, since the event was an "accident." Later, he gives money to Ige, wife of one of Uxbal's Senegalese workers who is about to be deported, to take care of his children. Ige is about to leave with the money, but changes her mind, and ends up deciding to stay in Barcelona, and help take care of the children.
Uxbal's decline is sad, particularly because underneath he's not such a bad guy after all (we can see that in his concern for his kids). Also quite tragic is Uxbal's longing for a father he never knew; we see him in flashbacks at the beginning and end of the film. The father also died tragically after fleeing to Mexico, as a fugitive from the Franco regime, before Uxbal was born.
Iñárritu's focus on Uxbal as a tragic figure, may have gone on for a little too long. What's much more interesting is the world he inhabits, which Iñárritu conveys in an unflinching and efficacious manner.
A painful story of a father, it's a great film but not an entertaining
one so just beware of tears.
There are a kind of painful movies that show the pain in face. This is a kind of movie that does not show pain and yet brings pain to those who witness it. The greatness of this movie goes to Javier Bardem, the actor who gives us an "into the skin" performance. He knows that he has to leave and he has to make preparations for his kids, and along with that he has to deal with so many issues. It's not an easy ride, this life it's of various challenges but we have to fight, overcome the obstacles, do what we want to do and then lay in peace.
Though shot very finely there a raw appeal to the film. We can smell those Barcelona streets or the gas from that warehouse and even that pub that is there for some few minutes only. We can feel as being there alive in those places than mere spectators and thanks to the cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto and the director Alejandro Inarritu for giving us a sublime piece of melancholy poetry. Each frame is detailed with emotions or the social condition of the characters and it just grows on by the end.
It's a kind of film where may be half an hour into the film we keep our hankies handy to wipe out the tears or at least have the fists under the chin, coz it's not something we would like to see and yet we are made to see a few tragic realities.
For this film, which is a rarity in terms of acting, I would give more credit to Javier Bardem for bringing life into the character and makes us feel. I am not sure if there is anyone who see this film and feels nothing for this father who is trapped with guilt of various crimes, fatherhood and a single parent who has to leave his wife.
It's one of the least entertaining film though, coz there is no guns, no drugs, no nothing that causes pain except for deteriorating health that is terminal and invisible. I am thankful coz I got an opportunity to see it in a theatre while in Mexico, I did not get anything then, but still I did feel very sad. When I watched it today with those subtitles, I am happier for having understood a lot many details and yet the melancholy feeling gets back.
But, what I get from this, is that we have to do our thing before being laid in peace, it's not just about getting married, raising family and dying off, it's more than that. We have our life, but we need to create a grave for ourselves in the world so that when we are gone there are a few who shall be proud for what we have done to them.
A 4/5 for one of the finest acting displays by Bardem and a good movie. It may seem long at 150 minutes, but wait patiently coz every frame has something about it. Good editing I must say.
Just to mention, was wondering if the director saw the telugu film "Matru Devo Bhava".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have been an advocate of Iñárritu's works continuously, AMORES PERROS
(2000, 8/10), 21 GRAMS (2003, 9/10) and BABEL (2006, 8/10), but his
fourth feature length BIUTIFUL has been evading my watchlist hitherto,
maybe it is its dour outlook intimidates me, although Bardem grabbed a
precious BEST LEADING ACTOR nomination in a foreign language picture.
But today, I'm in an indomitable mood (thanks to my sanguine nature) so I dare to take the challenge. BIUTIFUL, the intentional spelling error rings a bell of THE PURSUIT OF Happiness (2006, 7/10), under the same default of a divorced father struggles to maintain the subsistence with his kid(s), the latter is a bullish and aspiring fairytale while the former treads the muddy water in the underground Barcelona, with an impending terminal cancer lurks on.
Uxbal (Bardem) lives a double life, he is a medium who earns money from eliciting the last words from the deceased, also he is involved in a furtive illegal immigrant labor business with a Chinese boss Hai (Chen). With two children to foster, as a single father, when he realizes his days are numbered, it is a clarion call to urge him to be prepared and don't leave anything unfinished, which is also why the cancer sub-genre has its unique allure since it sets a date, motivates or even coerces the protagonists to take a look at theirs lives from a different angle, to slow down the pace and engage in an introspection like in TIME TO LEAVE (2005, 7/10) or to fulfill the bucket list like in MY LIFE WITHOUT ME (2003, 8/10), but here, Uxbal faces a much grimmer reality, everything will collapse, sometimes even in the most horrid way (an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning results in the casualties of two dozens Chinese immigrants all because he bought the cheapest heaters), his tentative attempt to leave two kids to his bipolar ex-wife Marambra (Álvarez) leads up to a blind alley and his brother Tito (Fernández) is a giant sleaze ball. With no other option, he leaves all his savings to an African immigrant Ige (Daff), who lives with them with her own infant boy, in dire hope he wishes she can take care of his offspring, but will she? Life cannot be more harder, so death could be his deliverance.
Bardem is so emotive as the jaded father, with his perpetual greasy hair, utterly riveting in meting out the plight around him, particularly scenes with his two young-lings, a dramatic turn from the deadpan and ruthless killer in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007, 9/10); theatrical actress Álvarez stuns in her film debut, a far more afflicted persona beyond redemption. Being a Chinese, it does pique my curiosity to see how a foreign director does with the Chinese gay characters in their films, but as a much diluted subplot here, shamefully it has been passed over with a vilifying perspective.
BIUTIFUL is a Stygian recount of a very personal story, its often wobbly, frantic camera movements linger persistently in the seedy and cramped environs, attended by the otherworldly score from Gustavo Santaolalla, sometimes resorts to fright flick with the spectra materialize out of nowhere. Apparently my least favored Iñárritu film so far, its brooding nature and the one- sided linear narrative does deter the general audiences from emerging oneself to a sadcore once more.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Biutiful is a weird film. It presents the story of a man dying by
cancer that tries to solve his life and of his children as well, before
his inevitable death. But things really start to get out of the control
for him, his life is indeed dirty and chaotic, and perhaps there is no
way to solve all his problems at all. A very depressive and dark film.
It tries to be realistic to a point, tries to show all the troubles that someone with problems and willing to solve them problems at once may pass. But any conclusions about this film may be or not right; because the truth is that 'the message' in it is way too obscure for a deeper discussion.
It seems to me that the ending, with the snow and all that weird stuff with his father means that he finally find cleanness in his 'spirit'. It is totally the opposite of the real life presented in the film, which is over the top dirty. It probably is an allegory to the heaven in a personalized way. It is really beautiful in the end...or not.
It stays in the air a lot of questions, one of them being about Ige's return to the house. The film don't makes clear in the end if she returns or not, but following the film logic, it was probably the latter option that happened.
A thing that bothered me was the fact that i don't understood the purpose of the Chinese gangster back-story, honestly it sounds like a useless and meaningless sub plot and should have been cut.
The cinematography is pretty good, the blue lightning always contrasting the dirtiest points in the film was a smart choice in that case. The multi-nominated performance by Bardem looked a bit overrated, but he does a good job and is very convincing anyways.
A film not for everyone, but still worth a watch. 6.7/10
Biutiful is a film that very accurately portrays life as it really is and not as Hollywood wants it to be. It shows how depressing and unpleasant life can be for the average person whose problems outweigh his happy moments, with a small metaphysical twist. However, this small metaphysical twist is exactly where my concern lays. The description IMDb offers of "a man living in this world, but able to see his death, which guides his every move" is very misleading. I was expecting a film with supernatural elements which would mostly deal with metaphysical and para-psychological matters. Instead, this film is bluntly realistic and down to earth, with a tiny hint of surrealism in the form of a paranormal gift owned by the protagonist, which plays a very minor role in the film. That being said, although I did enjoy the film, it was not what I expected to see.
This film has many aspects to it and requires more than one viewing. It
has several layers, including a theme of redemption through Uxbal's
children, Ana and Mateo.
Uxbal basically earns a living through the underground of Barcelona, and provides cheap labor and street merchants.He is also diagnosed with prostate cancer, in late stage.
His estranged wife Mirambra is bipolar and works as a sometime massage girl, her lifestyle is disjointed and confused.
The streets of the city are frenetic and colorful, appalling yet beautiful. The contrasts here are shown through his caring for the children . Mateo a 6 year old and his sister Ana, the actress portraying Ana deserves mention, she is especially sad and effective, played by Hanaa Boachio.
Overall, the photography bespeaks of a lost world, lost people trying to do the best they can to survive. Uxbal tries to help Chineses illegals by purchasing heaters for the warehouse, but a tragedy occurs. His soul is besieged with guilt, also knowing as he tells his fortune teller friend that he will leave is children behind in a hostile world, he does not expect the universe to "take care" of them.
The photography of the city at night especially is beautiful, flocks of birds taking off from the bridge, the steel and cold of the city, a mother walking her newborn in a carriage. There are also some redemptive scenes wherein he helps Ige, the wife of a Senegalese merchant who was arrested, to stay in his apartment with her newborn baby.
There is a good story here, excellent performance by Javier Bardem who manages to get empathy although his character is unsavory in this film. The city and its environs as a backdrop add to the narrative, plus evocative and disturbing photography. Highly recommended.
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