Thursday, March 24, 2011

BIUTIFUL (2010): Good Acting, Poor Story Telling

Writer, producer and director Alejandro González Iñárritu is so conscious of appearing relevant that he consistently wrecks a good storyline.  He did this in Babel, and he has done it in Biutiful as well.  At 148 minutes Biutiful is about one hour too long, but this is not the worst of the film’s defects.   I wouldn’t be bothered that the director was trying to say too much with his films if he wouldn’t be so pretentious in saying it.  We have a poor Spanish family (the father staring Javier Bardem, mother played by Maricel Alvarez, and two young children played by Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella) dealing with the mother’s insanity and the father’s cancer.  Concerning this part of the story, the film just about comes across as authentic.  Then we have an underworld story of trafficking in immigrant labor, the death of these immigrants due to a faulty heater, the clumsy disposal of the dead bodies in the ocean which is soon discovered and broadcast by the media worldwide, and the murder of the individual that disposed of the bodies by that individual’s gay lover.  The events of this film become so distant from reality that we stop caring what the writer, producer and director is attempting to say.

Javier Bardem as Uxbal (the father), Maricel Alvarez as Maramba (the mother), Hanaa Bouchaib as Ana (the seven or eight year old daughter) and Guillermo Estrella as Mateo (the four year old son) almost make this film work through their acting ability.  Eduard Fernandez as Tito, Uxbal’s untrustworthy brother (who happens to be sleeping with Maramba) is adequately played.  Uxbal’s maid, Ige (Diaryatou Daff), Uxbal’s own father and a Chinese immigrant mother and her child, are also individuals we come to care about.  All other characters in the film are forgettable. 

Uxbal is haunted by thoughts of his dead father that he has never met.  (He meets his father at the beginning and end of this film in the afterlife.)  This all coincides with the knowledge that he soon will die.  Uxbal is most concerned that no one will be left to look after his two young children after he does die because Maramba cannot be trusted with this task (due to her bi-polar disorder), Tito probably does not give a damn about anyone, and Ige wants to rejoin her husband in Senegal.  It is out of sheer decency that Ige decides to stay in Spain and look after the children.

There are attributes to the film.  The setting in the side streets of Barcelona befits the movie’s theme.  By no means is the Barcelona we come to expect as a locale so heavily promoted in the tourist trade.  Alejandro González Iñárritu may be the only current director that seems to understand that real poverty is a problem worth consideration.  There is also a redemption story that probably would not have worked if Javier Bardem wasn’t cast as the lead character.  His character, while all the while surrounded by trouble and sadness, displays dignity in attempting to overcome these obstacles.  There is joy in Uxbal’s interaction with his children, and sorrow in the anxiety and grief the family is forced to endure.  No additional storyline was required to make a statement that resonates. 

Still, the filmmakers seemed to feel the need to pour additional grief upon the lead character.  Dying from cancer, having a wife that is mentally ill and having no legitimate means of support for his family was not enough for them.  The filmmakers try tricking the viewer into watching this film.  They cheapen the film by including themes of drug abuse, infidelity and buggery in an attempt to lure in an audience that otherwise would have no interest in such a plot.  The misspelling of the word beautiful to come up with the title for this film is just one more desperate attempt to bring the film attention.  It didn’t work.  Like Babel, there is a core to this movie that is almost as good as anything we will ever find on the screen.  In both films that nugget is buried in excess.

March 24, 2011
© Robert S. Miller 2011

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