Biutiful Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez Running Time: 2 hrs 27 mins Rating: R Release Date: January 28, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: A father of two (Bardem) who works his way around the black market tries to keep his family together while diving deep into Barcelona's underworld.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Though it may lend itself more towards art house pacing than those of mainstream movies, this isn't just for moviegoers who generally check out foreign films, etc. Biutiful can be appreciated by all, as long as a person can manage with the movie’s melancholy.
EXPECTATIONS: Having seen this before this year's Oscar nominations were announced, I only had some festival buzzing to peak my interest about Bardem's performance, and simultaneously the movie that he carries on his shoulders.
Javier Bardem as Uxbal: The year of 2010 is one with a few special cinematic treasures, including the climax of The King’s Speech, Michelle Williams’ little dance in Blue Valentine, and more. Now, another event from the movies of 2010 can be added to the list: Javier Bardem’s face in Biutiful. The man is a force, whether he’s playing a mood meant to take up the entire room, or shrink into the size of a crumb. Inarritu is right to give Bardem’s circled eyes extreme-close-up attention, especially at the end of a movie. With the many ups and downs of Uxbal, which bring out a phenomenal range for Bardem, his eyes and stone-face are incredibly expressive towards all that this character, who is equally saint and screw-up, has experienced throughout his whole life. Score: 8
Maricel Alvarez as Marambra: A bit like Blake Lively's character in The Town, Marambra is a tragic mother who has been chewed up her surroundings, and has become difficult to truly change for the better. In her dramatic confrontations with her on-screen husband, she is able to stand up as a strong presence-wise against Bardem. Overall, she is not as effective as Bardem, but she doesn't slack on bringing her bacon to the dramatic table. Score: 6
TALKING: Biutiful tends to prefer speaking in whispers, utilizing three different languages throughout. The quietness of the dialogue is indeed fitting to the movie, but talking isn’t as necessary in this film as it is in many others. The acting is clear enough, as are the images. Score: 6
SIGHTS: Even when the events are chaotic, if not stressful, Biutiful maintains a breathing pace, which does make the film’s runtime almost reach 150 minutes – fortunately, it doesn’t feel that long. The cinematography is powerful and wonderful, as it presents areas of Barcelona that American audiences probably don’t get to see very often. Even with the story’s surprising turns and tremendous montages, the camera always remains subtle. Score: 8
SOUNDS: The score’s inconsistent instrumentation keeps things unexpected, much like the events of Uxbal’s difficult life. It begins with wild harmonic-heavy electric guitars and loud Spanish pop, and then calms down to solo instrumentation. Eventually, as Uxbal accepts his fate, the music is more peaceful, and quite simply, beautiful. (Especially a waltz that plays during an emotional trip to the morgue towards the third act.) The Biutiful soundtrack is rounded up with some touching melodic Spanish guitar work by Gustavo Santaolalla. Score: 8
BEST SCENE: While Biutiful doesn't have much of a weak spot, its third act is nothing but triumphant storytelling.
ENDING: "What's over there?"
REWATCHABILITY: Despite it's sadness, Biutiful is a movie one would be happy take a second look at. It's just that good.
Javier Bardem’s performance is this movie. He carries Biutiful on his brave back like Uxbal slugs around a whole mess of problems – the difference is that Bardem is totally in control, whereas Uxbal watches everything fall apart. The script that he’s working with, co-written by Inarritu, is effective and heavy. It’s easy to imagine that other writers/directors would lose control of such melancholic coloring, or turn this into a stiff, mopey foreign melodrama. Instead, Inarritu has a gentle hand with all of his subjects, including death, something that isn't usually made out to be so poignantly romantic. His angle of discussing life choices with an international angle is not as strong, but it does provide a refreshing universal lens to view the story's events. The film isn’t boxed up to only speak about Barcelona, it very much speaks to our lives too.
Si, “Biutiful” does indeed mean “beautiful.”
FINAL SCORE: 8/10