- Biutiful offers many touches of hope 3/3/2011 12:00:00 AM by howard.schumann
"Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light" – Dylan Thomas
Nominated for an Oscar for both Best Foreign Film and Best Actor (Javier Bardem), Alejandro Inarritu's Biutiful is a story about those who live on the margins: Sengalese immigrants, Chinese sweatshop workers, small-time criminals, and corrupt cops who feed at the trough. Set in the seedy back streets of Barcelona, Spain, Biutiful (copying a child's spelling of the word) is not only about fear and degradation but also about faith in the possibility of redemption. The film not only explores the pain caused by globalization and human trafficking but also delves into the mystery and contradictions of life in which beauty and misery can exist side by side. It is not always pleasant to watch but it is an honest and often poetic film in which there are no stock characters. Even the worst of them are three-dimensional human beings caught in a tangled web of circumstances.
Magnificently performed by Bardem, Uxbal works as a middle man, finding jobs on construction sites for undocumented aliens from China and Africa, and supplying goods to illegal street vendors. He must deal not only with the illegal activities he has chosen to be a part of, but with his own torments - a wife (Maricel Alvarez) who is a prostitute and suffers from bi-polar disease, his two small children, Ana and Mateo (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella) who long for stability and love, and a diagnosis of cancer that gives him only a few months to live. Uxbal is a character of contradictions, caught between his willingness to do what it takes to survive, even if it means going outside the law, and his love for his family and concern for the immigrants. These contradictions do not always make sense but lend his character a lifelike reality. He is also a spiritual medium who speaks with the dead or dying who are crossing over and provides comforting messages to those left behind (characteristically for a fee).
The film is shot by Rodrigo Prieto with a hand-held camera that enhances a feeling of intimacy. In the opening scene, Uxbal is seen in a snowy forest with his grandfather who left Spain for Mexico, another connection between Uxbal and the spirit world. This scene takes on more meaning by the end of the film. Inarritu throws many people and many situations into the mix, perhaps too many and the subplots do not always gel. There is Uxbal's brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez) who is involved with drugs and strip joints and sleeps with Uxbal's wife Marambra, a Sengalese family Ekweme and Ige (Cheijh Ndiave and Diaryatou Daff) living in Spain illegally, and the relationship of two gay Chinese criminals Hai and Liwei (Cheng Tai Shen and Luo Jin).
When the police arrest his friend, Ekweme, Uxbal promises to look after his wife Ige and their infant son Samuel and Ige takes on the role of his nanny, much to the delight of the children. As Uxbal's health begins to fail, his ties to the crime bosses come asunder, and his relationship with his family reaches a breaking point, he turns to the shaman Bea (Ana Wagener) to seek guidance, ask for forgiveness, and strengthen his connection to the other side. While Uxbal is not the reincarnation of St. Francis of Assisi and has contributed to human suffering, he seeks redemption in the love that he provides for his children, his patience with his wife's condition, and his attempts to reach out and protect the exploited.
As Inarritu has said, "Even if darkness seems to be everywhere, Biutiful offers many touches of hope. I'd even say it's my most optimistic film. Uxbal's character is full of light. He puts a lot into organizing his life, helping his children, loving other people." To paraphrase Walt Whitman, "If you have patience and indulgence towards people, reexamine all you have done, dismiss what insults your very soul, your flesh shall become a great poem." With whatever dignity he has left and after much resistance, Uxbal comes to terms with his own mortality, helping him to move beyond guilt and despair to confirm the beauty and preciousness of life.
- One of the BEST PIX for 2010 12/28/2010 12:00:00 AM by isotope434
I must say... I watched this movie twice. At first brush... I couldn't quite get past the pain and heaviness of the film... and at second screening, I really got to enjoy the (biutiful) visual metaphors that the director wanted to paint for us. It is indeed grim... and human. Like life, and perhaps a reflection of these days, not everything ends up happily ever after... we all are surviving each day in our own ways. This slice of family life, in a small quarter of Barcelona, is not glossed over and prettied up like most Hollywood films that we've slowly grown to despise (I know I don't speak for everyone). This is not the film that you go to to escape from reality... it's reality facing right back at you. It paints a perspective on the lives of those living on the frayed edges of our society, in every part of the world. For me, I think it is a pity that none of the Big Six picked it up for wider distribution. And that's the sad note for today's American cinema.
- The Ugly Beauty of Life 10/27/2010 12:00:00 AM by tigerfish50
"Biutiful" is a sublime and intense epic - and possibly the best film of the year. Even though its setting is very different, the film shares themes with "American Beauty", and succeeds in creating something close to a modern myth. It tells the story of Uxbal, the tough but loving single father of two young children, separated from his self-destructive bi-polar wife. He scrapes a living in the backstreet black economy of Barcelona, where he operates as a middleman for those who exploit illegal immigrant labor. Uxbal possesses the psychic ability to convey messages from the recently deceased - and sometimes he compromises his principles by accepting payment for this gift.
Uxbal's conflicted way of life reflects the essential human condition - trapped between the spiritual and material worlds. When he learns that he's terminally ill with cancer, his body seems to be manifesting his inner discord. After learning his fate, Uxbal begins searching for a trustworthy person to raise his two children after his death - and "Biutiful" tells of his struggle to accomplish this task while dark forces throw obstacles in his path. Those who have seen Inarritu's previous film "Amores Perros" will find themselves in familiar territory as Uxbal weaves his way through multitudes of desperate souls battling for survival. On the surface there's only the brutality of a dog-eat-dog world, alleviated by brief moments of tenderness and self-sacrifice. Hidden amidst the chaos, one can see the age-old journey of the immortal hero towards liberation.
- Dare to Follow Uxbal's Many-Sided Journey 5/5/2011 12:00:00 AM by jzappa
Inarritu's three previous films---Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel---are classified together as the Death Trilogy, as they each depict the exponential impact of fatal or near-fatal occurrences in the interconnected existence of separate lives. They are each epic, punch-packing dramatic powerhouses. But now I see he still had much more to say on the literally infinite subject of death. And he says it with Biutiful, a purely experiential film that pierces through the heart with the acuity of a stingray barb.
The narrative here is a rail tunnel of raw, sprawling intimacy set in an overpopulated, decaying Barcelona ghetto. We follow Uxbal, and we're not entirely sure what he does. Neither does anybody, or him really. Much of the things he does are criminal, mainly mitigating between corrupt police and illegal aliens, with often catastrophic results. He is also a dedicated father to two young children whose mother, his ex-wife, is a wreck of alcohol, bipolarity and promiscuity, and worse, knows her inability to control herself and is in a quicksand of bettering herself. Uxbal also has prostate cancer, which is rapidly spreading. Also, he is internally connected with the afterlife. He doesn't see visions, he doesn't clutch shoulders and see the manner of one's impending death. He purely senses a recently deceased spirit in the room with him. He can do nothing about their situation. He just senses them.
Uxbal's ability to feel the presence of departed souls is portrayed like a sort of capacity to hear noise at the volume at which, say, a dog could only be expected to hear it. The film's setting and happenings are a jerky, spontaneous, lateral rush of urban business, like the sight, sound and fury made by the living to distract themselves from the silence of death. Each scene seems to be a concordance of extroverted behavior and internal behavior, both with equal fervor, yet both on either side of some two-way mirror. Only those characters, namely Uxbal, whose conflicts and dilemmas are constantly internalized, can hear that silence. Eventually, his daughter does as well, and becomes the closest to him, in what one might go as far as to consider the film's climax, a bear-like hug they both know is as fleeting as every other action in this desperate commotion of a life they lead.
I?árritu intends to drain us. Physically, internally, emotionally. And he cleans out his total cinematic armory to do so. And like death, that is both a blessing and a curse. For however harrowing it is, Biutiful exalts us with the chance to see soul bare, through Javier Bardem's performance as Uxbal. Watching Bardem absorb, involve and ultimately possess a many-sided role like Uxbal's is a singular delicacy, and a complete wonder. His eyes speak agonizing tomes. He hauls from an unfathomably mysterious spring of passion, grief, and who knows what else.
One might be able to delineate that Bardem renders a tragic individual as a fading Barcelona forager who deals in illegal immigrants and connects with the deceased. But every now and then, a story materializes, conveyed in a way that is so sprawling, so comprehensive, that no one premise or implication can classify it. Attempting to definitely describe it limits something that offers the utmost magnitude of whatever an actor's, a filmmaker's, and viewer's, understanding. That is what makes Biutiful so precious.
- Biutiful (2010) 10/4/2010 12:00:00 AM by chunky_lover_68
Biutiful is a rather complex and interesting film, one that I have to admit is still sinking in as I'm still piecing together the dots of a rather sprawling storyline. Biutiful is a film that exists within the margins of society, it's everywhere we don't want to live, it's everyone we don't want to meet; it's all the struggles we'd rather not face and then some. As a result, the film is loud, violent, crazy, shameful, desperate, dirty and all other manner of words that describe the run down storefronts and apartments of the worst lived areas. Intelligently and bravely the films central idea is lost in the crowd, as obscured as the desires of its inhabitants, it's a confusing and chaotic place to be, but it works here where it wouldn't elsewhere. I would really like to watch this one again in hopes of better connecting the dots of a life lived on the fringe of society, entrenched in wrong doing, but not without its struggle with sensible moral. I think the idea behind Biutiful is that life, no matter how destitute and forgotten can be beautiful, it all depends on how you except and claim it.
Biutiful is the story of Uxbal, a shady man who's life is filled with turmoil, from admissions of an uncared for terminal illness, to unstable lovers, to unruly children, to spirits of which he can commune, to the lives of the underpaid migrant workers that he pimps out to whoever will employ them. It's easy for Uxbal to look back on his forty year existence and measure it in disappointments. But Uxbal is also a sensitive and caring man, who is able to make these admissions and in doing so take the steps to make his life it's own unique form of biutiful, but with a city more a crumbling metropolis and people who bar his progress with any step, can Uxbal truly bring some semblance of beauty to his life before it is painfully cut short, or will the darkness and depravity of the world around him swallow him and his desires whole, the answer is well worth discovering.
So I just can't say a whole lot with one viewing, but there are some things that stand out immediately. The film is several things, sad, funny, scary, creepy, intense, and as obvious as it seems, beautiful. Definitely some of the nicest camera work this year, yes it's sometimes shaky but you must consider the imagery it captures; some scenes are purely blissful for a film fan to witness. The editing is so great here that even though you know where the film is going its still exciting to get there. Javier Bardem gives a brilliant performance here, and it will take awhile for the viewer to except that Uxbal is an undesirable, but once you allow yourself to slip into his shoes, you begin to really get a sense of the man and his life. The seediness of the streets, and the strife and struggle of the humans in them are written all over this man, and Bardem really gives himself over to this character, warts and all, and gives us a brilliantly flawed person worthy of our attention. The rest of the cast is also well played, their stories contain their own levels of thoughtfulness and intrigue that both separates and connects to and from our protagonist intelligently. The script feels very human, there are no major verses of dialogue, people talk, feel and behave very naturally in this film, despite all coming from abnormal situations. Virtually no exposition on why this film exists, its meaning is wonderfully felt but not fully explained. The direction is so subtly smart that I was surprised to miss some of the most inventive and thought provoking foreshadowing I've seen in a film. Really just an all out creative and arresting affair, I'm trying hard not to use the word beautiful, but its fits every gritty frame of this film. The cinematography is awesome, really blown away thinking back to the brilliance of some of these shots, great work with the actors and the environments. My only complaint is that sound editing got a little to jarring, I get it's supposed to be an ugly film, but high pitched beeps and boops are annoying anyway you cut it (the 2001 monolith can suck it, thanks Kubrick), it drives home the madness of the setting, but I actually covered my ears at one point to muffle the noise. Other than that, the film is wildly challenging and rewarding for the viewer, I am blown away by the artistry here, it took this film to great heights, it made ugly pretty, which is no easy feat. If you don't like your films themes to be cut and dried, you're going to want to check out, pick apart and decipher the themes and mysteries of Biutiful, as it is more than deserving of such treatment.
So yes I liked this film quite a bit, but will hasten to rave until I've fully understood the motive of it. Thematically it's no straightforward story, there's something deep underneath all the grime, and I'm glad I dirtied my hands on it, and can't wait to do so again. A film for those who love long walks on the wild side and never choose the easy way out; a real decent thinking persons movie. A film in a class of it's own that breaks conventions in the best ways possible, and definitely among the years best films that I've seen thus far. Recommended.