Thursday, December 30, 2010

Movie with Abe: Biutiful

Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Released December 29, 2010

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu knows how to do tragedy. His Oscar-winning “Babel” is an extraordinarily difficult, tough portrait of pain and suffering as experienced by a few select individuals around the world. His underrated 2003 film, “21 Grams,” is entirely depressing and just as powerful, demonstrating just how much loss can affect multiple people. After working in the United States and collaborating with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Inarritu returns to his native country of Mexico to make his latest affecting downer, the heart-wrenching and enormously effective “Biutiful.”

The title of “Biutiful” is best likened to that of “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a misspelling that comes from a child’s mind in an attempt to demonstrate his or her intelligence. That naming of the film is very telling of its focus. Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a man struggling with trying to take care of his young children and prevent them from being overly influenced by his self-destructive wife, while at the same time earning a living by exploiting illegal immigrants and dealing with a grim cancer diagnosis. It’s clear that Uxbal is deeply dedicated to his children, yet he is being pulled in so many different directions that it’s difficult for him to focus and often impossible for him to devote as much time and attention to them as is necessary.

“Biutiful” is a complex, moving story carried by the performance of Javier Bardem. It’s refreshing to see Bardem follow up his Oscar-winning turn in “No Country for Old Men” with this kind of role after his effortless comic performance in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” Bardem, returning to his native language of Spanish, delivers a brave and deeply compelling performance, conveying so much pain and emotion with little more than a look. Bardem is skillfully directed by Inarritu, who focuses the film on Uxbal and only chooses to ignore everything else in the background when Uxbal is doing so. When something threatens to influence Uxbal, it becomes a central part of the film, and when it is inconsequential, the film appropriately forgets about it.

“Biutiful” also explores an unexplained image of Uxbal’s battle with certain death, opening the film with a conversation between an uncharacteristically relaxed and joyful Uxbal and an unknown stranger. The scene, juxtaposed with Uxbal’s nature throughout the rest of the film, is enormously powerful and helpful in establishing his character and the tone of the film. The film’s most impressive accomplishment is making its thieving, temperamental protagonist one of the most sympathetic characters in recent film history. This is a film that’s as excellent as it is depressing, and a considerable achievement on the part of Inarritu, Bardem, and everyone else involved.


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