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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.
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
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.
"Biutiful" is a sublime and intense epic - and possibly the best film of the year by a long way. Even though the setting is very different, the film shares themes with "American Beauty", and it succeeds in creating something close to a modern myth. It tells the story of Uxbal, who is a tough but loving single father of two young children, separated from his self-destructive bi-polar wife, Marambra. He scrapes a living in the backstreet black economy of Barcelona, where he operates as a middleman for those who exploit illegal immigrant labor. In addition to his dubious worldly talents, Uxbal possesses the psychic gift to convey messages from the recently deceased to their grieving relatives - and sometimes he compromises his principles by accepting payment for this service. Uxbal's discordant way of life reflects the essential human condition - trapped between the spiritual and material worlds - and when he learns that he is terminally ill with cancer, it seems as if his body must be manifesting his inner conflict. After his doctor informs him of his imminent death, Uxbal begins searching for a trustworthy person to raise his two children after he dies - and "Biutiful" tells of his struggle to put his affairs in order and accomplish this apparently impossible 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 a labyrinth of mean streets and desperate people battling for survival. On the surface there is only the selfishness and brutality of a dog-eat-dog world, alleviated by brief moments of tenderness and self-sacrifice - but hidden amongst the chaos, one can perceive the age-old journey of the immortal hero towards liberation.
"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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Uxbal is a protagonist of the highest dramatical calibre not unlike
Hamlet or Oedipus. This ailing father of two children and spouse of an
unstable woman suffering from borderline syndrome and drug addiction,
has departed on a calvary that seems to have no end. In ever more harsh
and merciless ways Uxbal is undergoing every sort of torment and
kickback thrown upon him by the demons of his gravely deseased Fortune.
Indeed, Uxbal finds out that he is suffering from a terminal form of
prostate cancer. Even though in essence Uxbal is a good man - fate
seems to have chosen quite a different direction for him as where we
usually believe our chance and luck to be. However, in this struggle
from amidst the darkness of his daily existence in the messy streets of
Barcelona Uxbal somehow is able to come to term with his fate without
giving in to despair. In fact, through a gradual process of material
disattachment he rises to a level of wise and unprecedented
reconciliation with destiny as well as with the people he cares about
and loves. After a long and painful journey of cancerous ordeals and
unwanted horrors, at the end Uxbal is ready to make his last and
necessary sacrifice before he can depart into the snowy landscape of
his timetranscending visionary dream of a chanceful reunification with
his grandfather killed by Franco's royalists during the Civil War.
At the press conference in Cannes last May 2010 Alejandro González Inárittu declared in his vehimently articulate manner: "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 organising his life, helping his children, loving other people."
Biutiful is a truly emotional and even spiritual masterpiece of the most magnificent kind. For whomever is willing or able to follow the main characters throughout their dazzling daily struggles to survive on the shady side of life in Barcelona whilst persisting in their illusionary and mostly illegal follies that are the unfortunate demonstrations of their communal longing for some warmth and wealth and happiness, he or she will be rewarded with a discovery that might be as liberating and emotional for Uxbal as it will be for the viewer following his endeavours from so nearby it hurts. What Inárittu has tried throughout his ruthless, fastpaced, extremely honest, direct and intimate style of holding the camera as close to one's skin as possible, is to make us sense and realize that in the end their might indeed be something like a human soul after all. A discovery not unlike the one pursued by his tormented characters from that other masterpiece of his: 21 Grams. The viewer who is able to show sympathy for Uxbal, will be able to witness a most remarkable moral recovery in the inner self of our slowly but steadily vanishing hero. In a very humble but all the more remarkable way Uxbal somehow managed to keep some ray of light awake amidst the darkness that is closing in on him from the realms of his grim unfortunate reality. In the end, on the threshold of his toilet and bedroom and amidst the company of his daughter and a refugee he was so kind as to adopt in his house after her husband was deported back to Africa, Uxbal is able to finally reach the surface of his dignity again. This happens while he is literally dying and physially collapsing. But spiritually, his ascendance back upon the slippery slope of his generous but tested and tormented mind towards a state of peacefulness and grace, is a tour de force indeed. It is magical. Mysterious. Hopeful. Just like the entire encadrement of Inarritu's latest masterpiece. And just like Javier Bardem's amazing achievement to make us weep and at the same time feel happy for the faith that he was able to sustain out of the cold and unjust misery that chased him all along his final destiny.
A father's love for his children amidst the everyday life of crime in
Barcelona. This encapsulates pretty much the basic premise of this
movie, and has said nothing about the content or merit.
I'm sure quite a few reviews about this disturbing but nevertheless transcendent film will be written here. Next to the praise, a lot of people will be appalled, others indifferent, then there will be the ones who complain that Biutiful is nothing more than showing our bad world being bad.
It may be that, but it is also full of promise and dare one say it, love. And it would be foolish to ignore the hope that can be seen amidst the pain and chaos. Iñárritu shows us that we as human are able to care, for ourselves and each other.
And if nothing else, "Biutiful" proves, now officially, that Javier Bardem is one of the greatest contemporary actors.
Felicidades y gracias
"Biutiful" is devastating. Not only isn't it a comfortable and audience-pleasing film but in this case the story's really shocking, well acted and directed and, overall, terribly sad. The film is basically about good and evil, death and life and similar topics. These themes are very effectively expressed in its atmospheric and innovative photography. Iñarritu's camera gets to detect images of fierce and brilliance in the squalor. Javier's face is painted with light and shadows, as well as with a sinister appearance suggesting strong contrition and redemption. Uxbal's efforts to make some generous deeds before his death are rendered in a terrific performance, which manages to elevate the bleak subject to a sublime level. "Biutiful" is a work of extraordinary vitality and humanity, with figures of untarnished quality (Uxbal's children and the Senegalese immigrant who'll raise them after his death). On a personal level Uxbal comes to terms with the close death but eventually shows a vision of reconciliation with the life he must leave behind. Watching the film is a really a must.
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.
Iñárritu 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.
Ordinarily I like these kinds of films about people struggling to
overcome the odds of a bad deal.But in this film, Uxbal, the
protagonist, has to struggle against every bad thing can ever happen to
a person and all in a very short window of time. Death would be a
welcome relief. Javier Bardem plays his role extremely well though; I
felt his anguish over his children and the immigrants he "managed." His
story gets weighed down, unfortunately, by the number of tragedies he
must endure and the tasks he must execute. The director could have
eliminated/edited a few of the off-point character traits and side
stories to streamline the story for impact, which would have helped the
film deliver more of a meaningful punch, not less.
In addition, the summary of this movie says Uxbal must suffer a number of tragedies on the way to redemption. I'm not sure there is any redemption here. In Children of Men, the protagonist endures a lot and struggles through his own character defects to protect an black female fugee whose pregnancy provides hope for the human race. We feel joyful at the end of CofM because he has accomplished his task despite the odds. The ending of Biutiful, however, lacks a clear meaning and we're unsure of everyone's fate except for Uxbal's. The experience was depressing.
I gave the movie an 8 because it was beautifully produced and well acted; the story was original, an uncommon view of Barcelona and the immigrants who go there for work under terrible conditions. But I doubt if anyone would want to see this film more than once.
Biutiful is a departure and a confirmation for Mexican director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu: on the one hand, it is another study of
lives gone awry, with no punches pulled in regards to the misery
experienced by the characters; on the other, it's the first film he's
made he parted ways with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who preferred
to move on to other projects after Babel. Biutiful proves two things:
firstly, Inarritu remains very good at constructing memorable images;
secondly, these aren't worth quite as much without Arriaga's words.
Set in Barcelona, the film ditches the filmmaker's traditional fragmented, multi-character narrative, focusing solely on one imposing figure: Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a man who has to deal with his own imminent death from cancer, a dire relationship with his family (wife, kids and brother), his ties to local criminal activities and, more generally, the ugliness he sees every day walking down the streets. Surely the (intentionally misspelled) title must be ironic.
Working on the script himself, Inarritu goes for a simpler story, but doesn't renounce his penchant for harrowing material. In fact, Biutiful is undoubtedly the least cheerful film he's directed to this day, and that's saying something. His depiction of a gray, ugly Barcelona is faultless, exposing the city's seedy underbelly and disease (both physical and spiritual) with genuine, relentless storytelling passion. However, this is also detrimental to the film's impact: without Arriaga's more experienced take on the subject, the director doesn't know when to stop, throwing in one tragedy after another for the best part of the movie's 148 minutes, with no pause for breathing. It's almost too bleak, too tragic, to fully convince as a drama.
Does this mean all the praise Inarritu has received in the past was premature? Not really. Even his detractors usually acknowledge his talent with actors, and in this case, perhaps being aware of the script's shortcomings, he has hit the jackpot: from start to finish, Bardem is a revelation, justly awarded with the Best Actor prize in Cannes. Sure, he's always been a gifted thespian, and no stranger to difficult parts (see The Sea Inside), but here he's really in a class of his own. Communicating with his sad, tired eyes rather than his broken voice, he carries the whole picture with a stoic dignity that is always gripping and heartbreaking.
While easy to mock and criticize, Biutiful, for all its flaws, warrants at least one viewing on the grounds that it proves beyond doubt that sometimes a truly astounding performance can save an otherwise mediocre film.
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