film review: BIUTIFUL

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Produced by González Iñárritu, Jon Kilik & Fernando Bovaira
Written by González Iñárritu, Armando Bo & Nicolás Giacobone, based on a story by Mr. González Iñárritu
Released by Roadside Attractions
Spanish with English subtitles
Spain/Mexico. 148 min. Rated R
With Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Eduard Fernández, Diaryatou Daff, Cheng Tai Shen & Luo Jin

For fans of director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Death Trilogy—”Amores Perros” (2000), “21 Grams” (2003) and “Babel” (2006)—”Biutiful” is the deathiest of all his movies to date. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a Barcelona single father who never stops hustling, wheeling, dealing, or doing whatever is needed to keep his family from falling over the edge. Yet, even with all his questionable pursuits, Uxbal’s a good soul, albeit a haunted one. In addition to all his worldly problems—and there are quite a few—he also seems to have a direct dial to the spiritual world as well. And as he moves closer and closer to his own mortality in this flawed, mournful film, he struggles to make things right, not an easy task when the world keeps dumping moral obstacles in his path, one after another.

A few of which include an emotionally unstable wife (Maricel Álvarez), with whom he is initially estranged. Uxbal has custody of their two young children as a result of past incidents, which come to light during the film and which he’s at first reluctant to overlook. His drug-addicted brother, Tito (Eduard Fernández), is also his business partner. They provide illegal labor to various clients for a piece of the action, among other questionable ventures, and one particular deal with Chinese developers goes devastatingly wrong. By this point, you might already be inured to such dramatic moments. If that weren’t enough, Uxbal has some serious health issues that, as the movie progresses, becomes harder for him to ignore.
The manic pace, and indeed the manic pressure, that Uxbal must endure is enough to make anyone crack. That relentlessness begins to make the movie sag under its weight. “Biutiful’s” other biggest problem is its sheer number of narrative threads, which ultimately dilutes the movie from any one particular dramatic direction. The best thing the movie has going for it is its casting of Bardem, a solid presence in films like “No Country for Old Men” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”. Here he’s just as strong, and he almost makes the movie a very good one. One other real asset: cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. As he has done in all three past Iñárritu films, Prieto makes grim look good.

The final scenes, while cathartic, are no less easy to watch. Like the majority of the film, they are so raw and absent of any humor that you might feel a transference of suffering has occurred, from a sadistic director to a masochistic audience member. A sense of loss is omnipresent throughout, something you might relate to when walking out of the theater after spending 148 minutes that you’ll never get back.

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