Friday, December 03, 2010

Biutiful – Movie Review




Last night in my movie class, we saw a Spanish drama titled, “Biutiful”, starring Javier Bardem. 



A divorced single father of two struggles to raise his children – but when he suddenly learns he’s dying of cancer, how will he be able to provide for them once he’s gone?




Uxbal (Bardem) is barely able to eke out a living by distributing goods to illegal African street vendors who earn a little extra on the side by dealing drugs.  Having divorced his bipolar alcoholic wife Maramba who fronts as a masseuse while actually earning a living as a prostitute, he is forced to raise his son and daughter on his own, with little help from others.  After experiencing considerable pain and an increasing frequency of blood in his urine, he can no longer put off going to a doctor, who informs Uxbal that he has an advanced form of prostate cancer, which now appears to be spreading to other organs due to the fact that he has delayed medical attention for so long. 


Although Uxbal is coerced to bribe the Barcelona Police to look the other way on the drug-dealing Africans, the street vendors are nevertheless raided when their illicit business becomes a little too brazen.  As a result, one of his vendors winds up being imprisoned, with the impending eviction of his wife and infant child from their tiny flat.  Resigned to the fact that she will be forced to return to Senegal with the baby, Uxbal offers her his apartment while he and his kids move in with the unpredictable Maramba. 


Meanwhile, things take a very unexpected turn for the worse when the two Chinese men who run a sweatshop that manufactures the goods  Uxbal distributes suddenly find all of their illegal alien workers dead one morning as the result of a freak accident.   Believing he may have inadvertently caused their death and fearing criminal prosecution, Uxbal must work with the two men to cover up the mess so that none of them are implicated.  But with his health in rapid decline and little hope in sight, will Uxbal somehow be able to secure responsible, reliable caretakers for his children after he’s dead?




At two and a half hours in length and with a ploddingly slow pace, this movie is in dire need of some serious editing.  Add to this the fact that the story unceasingly heaps one improbable complication after another upon its already beset protagonist, the movie becomes so dark, bleak and pessimistic that I found it difficult – if not impossible, at times – to watch.  I was surprised by the fact that the class did not appear to have a large number of walk-outs and stunned in the post-screening discussion to learn that most of the students liked the film considerably.  Despite this and the fact that this movie was supposedly well-received at the Cannes Film Festival, I can’t really recommend it unless you are a hard-core fan of either Bardem or director Alejandro González Iñárritu. 


Despite my misgivings, I must say that in other respects this is a well made film with a strong performance by Bardem; some feel that both he and Iñárritu may be destined for Academy Award Nominations.  One of the interesting technical choices that was made has to do with the use of subtitles.  Set in Barcelona, most of the characters speak Spanish – accompanying English subtitles for which appear in white.  When other characters speak in a different language, however, subtitle colors change to denote their dialog is in a tongue other than Spanish – for example, when the Senegalese characters speak French, their English subtitles appear in yellow and when Chinese is spoken, the subtitles display as blue.


Before the screening, the film’s star Javier Bardem was interviewed by our instructor for almost an hour.  Bardem spoke of the enormous challenge this role was for him, but added his respect and admiration for this director, with whom he has wanted to work for quite some time.  He mentioned that the intentional misspelling of the movie’s title (“Biutiful” instead of “Beautiful”) was done to accentuate the film’s meaning:   strive to find things that are beautiful and pleasurable although life has its inherent imperfections.