Biutiful

None in Sight

         
 

05 January 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

For all its damning austerity, it goes too far testing your patience to get to something meaningful. Biutiful (in Spanish with English subtitles, and English) is Javier Bardem in despair for two and a half hours. Bardem knows pitiful all too well from his work in “The Sea Inside” (2004) and “Before Night Falls” (2000). It is written and directed by shuffle-deck maestro Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of “Amores Perros” (2001) and “Babel” (2006) fame, except this time he keeps it at a straight, chronological narrative. He is obviously an interesting filmmaker in reflection of his early successes in spite of his compulsive timeframe mishmashes. But worse than ever in his nebulous arrangements, he introduces his protagonist without telling us anything upfront of who he is and plunks us down in the ghettos of Barcelona in the “underground” sweatshop district without tipping to us why the characters are involved there. It’s as if Inarritu is deliberately trying to make his film as muddled as custard meringue pie but without any hint of sweetness. Yet if it was possible to get a taste in your mouth from a movie then in this case it would be a turd. Only late on does Inarritu makes something interesting.

This is humorless material told completely humorless. In slow tract pieces of information we learn that Bardem’s Uxbal (I watched the movie and I still can’t pronounce that name aloud) has terminal cancer, that his pee is color red, that he has two kids that love him but afraid of closeness, that his estranged wife is a drug relapse-junkie and manic depression case, and that he is a contractor and middle man alongside with his brother in the sweatshop and drug trade. After these plot essentials are finally dispensed, I mean finally, Inarritu spends another hour reiterating this information ten times over.

A dying man, Uxbal is trying to figure out how to set his affairs in order before he passes on. He is afraid for his kids because he obviously doesn’t trust his wife’s (Marical Alvarez) erratic behavior, the fact that she sleeps with his brother is less important than the fact that she is physically abusive to the kids. The brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez), for underworld flavor, also runs a scummy but costume-heavy strip club that puts nipples on the ass-cheeks of girls working there.

In these times of personal pressure, Uxbal is sympathetic to the exploited Chinese workers even more than usual. He already knows they are not being paid right and if he really stuck his neck out he could get these workers better jobs somewhere else. He wants to do something good for them in the meantime. He is concerned that they are too cold at night in the way they are huddled in sleeping bags in a spare parts garage so he buys them discount heaters, only to figure out later that he should have bought them quality heaters. The cheap heaters emit poisonous gas. Suddenly, not only was he in shambles about arranging terms for the remaining time in his life but now he has 25 Chinese lives that he has inadvertently impacted. This is compelling stuff.

Except that none of this happens until approximately the 100 minute mark. Inarritu spends too much time suffocating you with moods of desolation and despair without getting to the story kicker that should have happened at the 25 minute mark of a normal movie. I know, Inarritu wants to break the rules by refusing to adhere to commercial story beats. But he works too desperately in the other direction, it’s almost as if he was saying, “I’m too important to not get away with making two and a half hour films. Deal with my four movement requiems.” If he ever comes to realize that his films need to be stripped down to his direct objectives, he might come through again as the engaging storyteller he intended to be.

I give the first hour and a half a grade of one star. I give the last hour, suffused with dramatic tension and vital decision-making, three stars – especially poignant is how Uxbal decides to whom he will pass his children along to (and the Academy might like Bardem in these scenes, too). Honestly this is interesting, but it’s too late. All this rounds out to about two stars. Though I don’t know anybody who would actually want to sit through one-star emptiness just to get to three-star material anyway. Grading curve is denied as a penalty for making the all too knowing “ironic” title. Anything but beautiful. LMAO.

148 minutes. Rated R.

FOREIGN / DOWNHEARTED / WINTER DESPAIR

Film Cousins: “Ikiru” (1952, Japan); “The Lower Depths” (1957, Japan); “Ju Dou” (1990, China); “Before the Rain” (1994, Greece).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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