Iñárritu’s “BIUTIFUL” (2010), starring Javier Bardem
The Bottom Line: “You can give up, let yourself go… or grit your teeth and hang on like stupid people do.”
Direction: Alejandro González
Languages: dialogue in Spanish, Chinese, and Wolof (English subtitles available).
Intro: Released first in Mexico on 22 October 2010, Biutiful won the Silver Ariel award in 2011 for Best Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto) and was nominated for six others, including Best Actor (Javier Bardem), Best Actress (Maricel Álvarez), Best Editing (Stephen Mirrione), Best Original Score (Gustavo Santaolalla), Best Make-Up (Alessandro Bertolazzi), and Best Costume Design (Paco Delgado). In 2010, Bardem shared the Best Actor award at Cannes with Elio Germano (La Nostra Vita). He was nominated at the 2011 Academy Awards for Best Leading Actor, while Biutiful received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also was nominated for a 2011 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. At the 2011 BAFTAs, the film competed for Best Film not in the English Language and Bardem for Best Leading Actor. The film grossed $5,100,937 in the USA alone (as of 3 June 2011).
Plot Summary: In the Barcelona underworld, Uxbal (Bardem) is a middleman between Hai (Chen), who runs a sweatshop where undocumented Chinese workers make knockoff luxury goods and pirate videos, and Senegalese street vendors like Ekweme (Ndiaye). He also has spiritual gifts — he can communicate with and assist earthbound souls who have unfinished business when they die — and a complicated relationship with his bipolar ex-wife, Marambra (Álvarez), with whom he has two children, Ana (Bouchaib) and Mateo (Estrella). His messy life seems to work until he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As Roger Ebert wrote, “He works in crime, but is not a bad man, and indeed under sentence of death, he is moved, like the hero of Kurosawa’s ‘Ikiru,’ to try to do something good.” Can he put his “affairs in order” by making peace with his worldly past and his spiritual future?
Commentary: In this film, Iñárritu includes elements from several genres (drama, crime, supernatural), but transcends them all. The film depicts multiple worlds within and without the temporal world in which Uxbal exists. On the one hand, there is Uxbal’s family’s past, symbolized by his father (who died young in exile in Mexico, where he fled from Spain to escape punishment for rebelling against Franco). On the other, there is its future, represented by Ana and Mateo, his children. In the present, he has many problems and many difficult relationships, all of which he must resolve to avoid becoming an earthbound spirit himself. In the process, Uxbal unwittingly causes a catastrophe that complicates this mission.
Clearly, this is not a movie about the “Village of the Happy People,” although some reviewers criticized it as such. For example, Ebert wrote:
The film’s moral sense is heartfelt but not especially daring; by giving us a good man as his hero, Gonzalez Inarritu possibly weakens his case against the general sense of injustice in his film (nominated for a best foreign film Oscar). Uxbal is so wholly sympathetic that it’s hard for us to assign blame for his sins, and yet surely they are sins. Perhaps the idea is that he inhabits a world so lacking in goodness that his possibilities for choice are limited.
A. O. Scott, reviewing for the New York Times, agreed:
Mr. González Iñárritu’s fine and subtle instincts as a director of actors and a composer of shots are undermined by a melodramatic sense of story and a fundamentally sentimental conception of fate. “Biutiful” certainly looks real, and it rubs your face in all kinds of harsh facts of life, from mental illness to poverty to the fatal effects of cheap space heaters operating in poorly ventilated rooms. But this extreme misery is tethered to an idea of redemption that is disconcertingly soft.
However, I agree with Ebert that Bardem’s performance is what makes this film powerful. Indeed, Iñárritu wrote the screenplay with Bardem in mind as the leading actor. But I disagree with both Ebert and Scott that this movie is melodrama. Perhaps they find the idea of personal redemption unpalatable. Or, more to the point, perhaps they feel that those who live in harsh worlds should have equally difficult paths to better ones.
Film Facts (from IMDB):
- MPAA Rating: R
- Runtime: 148 minutes
- Sound Mix: Dolby, Dolby Digital
- Color: Color
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1