Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Biutiful:: Desperate Characters in a Globalized World



I saw an advanced screening in Toronto of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's Biutiful {2010}, courtesy of Now Magazine and thanks to Linnyqat for inviting me along. I've purposefully haven't read other reviews of the film, although I'm sure many will focus on the dreary nature of the film. While I appreciated the concept of Iñárritu's Babel {2006} with its interweaving of stories in a global context, I found it hard to get into. Much of it was the pacing. While Biutiful's pacing isn't brisk, the interwoven stories centring around Javier Bardem's Uxbal keep the audience engaged, for the most part. The 147 minute runtime presented some challenges in this area. Part of the issue I had was you know where the story is going, which sets up the last half of the film, but this made me want the film to hurry up and get to the end. End the misery, already. Maybe this was by design—to make us a bit uncomfortable, but this tactic drifts into those of the new French extremity school, as well as the work of Von trier and Moodysson.

What I find brilliant about this film is that it makes one feel the desperation of the characters. The film gets claustrophobic at times—you feel trapped, just like the characters. Trapped in their lot. Uxbal is a central figure hustling to get by and provide for his kids. Others are trapped in their global transborder circumstances of migrating from China and Senegal to the liminal state of being in the underclass in a gritty Barcelona. This is a Barcelona far from Whit Stillman's {1994} travelogue, but closer to the Barcelona Brad Anderson used in The Machinist {2004}, although that film doesn't specify its location. Iñárritu's Barcelona is of fish frying in pans in crowded and cluttered apartments, of police sweeps, corruption, shady deals, and disposed of bodies washing ashore. The extreme close-ups add to the grittiness of the film. Every pore is visible. Every flaw, in appearance and character, is right there and in your face.

Death is a theme that pervades this film, as part of a trilogy including Amores Perros {2000} and 21 Grams {2003}. It doesn't sanitize it or desensitized the audience to it, but like I said above, it comes close to being an unrelenting onslaught of misery towards the end. I think many might find this hard to take—it isn't pleasant, but it does get you to think about your own mortality. It is through the theme of death that it informs us about life.

The film also has waves of sorts—waves of good and bad. Several times in the film, things look dire, but look up, but then turn sour again. The characters also experience waves, in their behaviours. Uxbal is an exploiter, but tries to do good, but sometimes fails and sometimes succeeds. His wife he's separated from, Marambra {Maricel Álvarez}, goes through life as if she's on a roller coaster, mirroring and manifested in her manic depression.

There's plenty of humanity in this film, but it's a humanity of desperate characters. It's a humanity that should resonate in that many feel the pain and struggle of these times, directly or indirectly. The film reminds us that despite our flaws and our atrocities, we struggle with them, and are nevertheless connected to those in our everyday lives.


Biutiful is in wide release in the US and will open in Toronto on 11 February. Oscarwise, it was nominated for Best Foreign film and Javier Bardem is up for Best Actor.

Twitterversion:: [blog] Review of advanced screening {courtesy of @nowmagazine} of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu's Biutiful w/Javier Bardem http://goo.gl/GKnWv  @Prof_K

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