Wednesday, February 9, 2011


The only innovation in "Biutiful" is having different colors for subtitles in different languages (white for Spanish, blue for Chinese, yellow for Senegalese), something that last year's confusing Oscar nominee "Ajami" could have used. Otherwise, "Biutiful" is an emotionally manipulative, 147-minute tapestry of cliches and poorly-developed characters that Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu puts together clumsily and without much coherence. A good but not necessarily Oscar-worthy performance by Javier Bardem (co-winner of Cannes Best Actor) and a pretty touching (and at times pleasantly mechanized) score by Gustavo Santaolalla (et al.) are to the film's benefit but don't really help it work as a whole.

Uxbal (Bardem) is a disciplinarian who has a handle on everyone but (you guessed it) himself. He tries to get money to support his children but his long-lasting felonious venture (something involving construction) seems to be nearing its end. His other job, telling people what their recently deceased family and friends (who look like something out of J-horror) said, is also losing steam as people are tired of him sayingthat their kids stole things (even if they did). His separated wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), whom he still loves, claims to be stable but engages in an affair with his brother Tito and, when Uxbal moves back in with her, displays all of the problems she's said to have overcome.

Before his life bursts by itself, he finds he has contracted cancer (portrayed gratuitously with bloody urinations and needles) and neglected it beyond the point of return. Uxbal doesn't want the same thing to happen to his kids that happened to him when his father (whom he never met) passed early on in his life, but there's very little he can do about it. And that's all I'll say about the film's plot, since I'm getting annoyed describing it and also because I don't want to transcribe the whole movie right here, which is sort of tempting.

Bardem has some nice scenes of anger, tenderness, and sadness, but the performance isn't exactly the slam-dunk I was expecting. He, along with the other actors, is at the mercy of Inarritu's screenplay (with Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone). It throws in corny characters (a cop, a fellow supernatural friend, a conflicted immigrant), kills off minor ones to try to grip us, and doesn't treat the substantial ones as well as possible. The film's ending (and also prologue) is a mild triumph for the script, though. Despite lingering on an overplayed image, it made me feel something. "Biutiful," between its introduction and conclusion, however, doesn't really dig that deep. C

I've now seen all the nominees of the "above the line" categories at the Oscars. This enables me to do my feature to its fullest extent, though I'm unsure of how that'll work out. Stay tuned, though.

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