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Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Biutiful", selling the drama?


It's not the first time I'm involved in this sort of debate. And it is also not the first time a González Iñárritu's film provokes this debate. Is this another step, after the brutal stories of "Amores Perros", "21 Grams" and "Babel", towards achieving the most ambitious, global and up-to-date drama? Or just another example of a filmmaker with a serious (gigantic, I would say) problem of megalomania?

Some critics have devastated "Biutiful" as a despicable example of "the other's pain exploitation" from a bourgeois perspective. For them, Inárritu is a director using miseries like a tourist would do, self satisfying his ego while pretending he's offering a slice of raw reality. Others, on the contrary, qualify the film as an "elegiac, melancholic poem about love, fatherhood and guilt". I see both points, but I wouldn't go that far. In my opinion, "Biutiful" could have been the best, most interesting and absorbing film from the Mexican director,    but his lack of moderation and list of excesses almost kills the movie. Let me split the review in two parts:

Praises. First and foremost: Javier Bardem. Excellent, heart-rending, very sophisticated performance of Uxbal, the absolute focus of the film, capable of saying so much with so little. Iñárritu is so lucky such a talented an actor accepted the role and became so committed to it. He's the film, giving the director, in my opinion, his first, rich, very well defined and engaging character of his cinema. Second: bye circular, supposedly avant-gardist structures, hello logic and fluidity of the story. Third: the core, foundation of "Biutiful" is a very solid story of a father, struggling with death and a dark present that leaves little hope for the future he aspires to give to their beloved ones. One can only wonder what would have happened if Iñárritu had restrained him only to this.  

Grievances. The amount of excesses is overwhelming. First: like Michael Haneke's "Code Unknown" it commits the fault of wanting us to assimilate and almost infinite list of miseries and human degradation (our degradation, of course), believing they are denouncing them just by allowing some time on screen. That's so wrong. The reality of migration and marginality in cities like Barcelona is way more complex and intricate that the one we see on the film. I'm not saying the story is unbelievable. I'm just pointing out that marginality here is the context in which Uxbal lives (and "works"), but Iñárritu also takes the occasion to "preach" about it. That mixture is, at times, indigestible. Second: elevating the amount of misfortunes, personal tragedies surrounding Uxbal doesn't make the film more authentic. On the contrary, saturates the audience and contributes creating that whiff of manipulation some critics see. Third: the paranormal story is absolutely unnecessary. Fourth: as the number of things going on is disproportionate, the length of the film is equally overlong.

Overall, "Biutiful" is a longer-than-life drama, in which the spectator opinion might differ vastly depending on her/his own preferences and personal story. Thanks to a masterly Bardem and an intense central story on parenthood, the movie becomes, probably, the most intriguing film of Iñarritu's career so far. But at the same time, it is so damaged by the excesses of his director it almost chokes the audience.

SCORE: 5,5/10

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