Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010)


Javier Bardem (Uxbal), Rubén Ochandiano (Zanc), Maricel Álvarez (Marambra). Screenplay by Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo, Alejandro González Iñárritu. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Rating: 15. Running time: 147 minutes.

Javier Bardem is the Al Pacino of our age. Both men achieve a level of power and presence on screen that is unrivalled, have eyes curiously moving in their depth, and the characters they choose to embody are consistently complex on exactly the same level. With Uxbal – the dying, run-down father of two desperately trying to juggle love for his children with the reality of life in Barcelona’s underworld – Bardem has surely achieved his magnum opus. There isn’t a single American or British actor that could reach the heights he does here. In fact, in Biutiful in general, an emotional intensity is achieved that will make a mockery of the Academy, when next year they no doubt continue to ghettoise films in a foreign tongue, bidding amongst themselves, realistically, for only one award.

It is, of course, as much down to Iñárritu as it is Bardem that Biutiful is as special as it is. With his previous three films – Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babelthe Mexican has gained a reputation for packing his work with pain that was always nevertheless inexplicably and utterly watchable. When human suffering is exhibited in an Iñárritu film, it’s never fleetingly or carelessly considered, nor is it melodramatically hyped up to be more than it is through the use of extravagant music. Instead, it’s always brutally frank and convincing, and very hard not to be moved by. The only difference is that, with the arrival of Biutiful, the experimental aspect of his earlier films has been dropped. The innovative editing of the ‘Death Trilogy,’ with its nonlinear narratives and multiple stories that are switched between, worked incredibly well, but one couldn’t help but think a director with such an eye for raw emotion was destined to end up focusing on one situation in particular. Here we have it, with a much more conventional foundation for drama to be built upon, and the rewards of trusting Bardem to clock up over two hours of screen time – where Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Babel were probably allowed thirty minutes each at most – are clear for all to see.

There’s more new territory for Iñárritu here, in the fact that Biutiful covers metaphysical ground previously untouched in his work. Uxbal is heavily involved with the Church, often making the little money he can by spending time with bodies of the departed, helping them through and relaying last messages on to nearest relatives. Fraud never even enters the equation here – the occurrences are portrayed so naturally, even if disturbingly, that Uxbal comes across as this giant of a man as much in the spiritual as the physical sense, and he needs both strengths to even partially overcome the problems in life that he faces.

Before the film started, Bardem said to the audience at the London Film Festival that there are some films you love, others you hate, and then there’s a third type where those words don’t exactly apply in any meaningful sense, and instead you’re left with a piece of cinema that attempts to take you on a journey too heart-aching to be pleasurable, but also too human to detest. Biutiful undoubtedly fits this last category. To watch it is indeed to go on a journey, of a kind very few living filmmakers could ever even hope to achieve.

2 Responses to “Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010)”

  1. 1 Another Year (Mike Leigh, 2010) « jacob williamson | thoughts on film
  2. 2 Academy awards: what will win and what should. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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