Sunday, March 20, 2011

"Biutiful" (2010) - Movie Review

If anyone is crazy about the new movie of Alejandro González Iñárritu that would be me and as much as I can convince myself “Biutiful” has some courageous and moving performance by Javier Bardem and the beauty and poetry Alejandro’s films carry, it did not engulf and swept away my soul. When I saw “21 Grams” the experience blew away the notion that there are certain kind of filmmaking which are not alone different but can reach to your heart and squeeze it thoroughly with an emotion you cannot overcome. I witnessed the magic of “Babel” and it became the catalyst for the obsession of mine to begin writing movie reviews. So you can see why I set such a high standard for Alejandro and while “Biutiful” is an extremely well made film, its core does not come out as a nature of a human his previous film carried effortlessly. Nevertheless this is a film that lifts itself through the time and ends in a known tragedy with heavy heart.

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is the middle man in a dirty business of cheap labour of illegal immigrants. He works with the Chinese for resource and trades with the local construction site heads. He also helps out illegal immigrants from Senegal in setting up illegal shops on the side walks. When you have so many different people working on numerous tasks and do not understand the effort this man is gelling together, it becomes a job under appreciated in this big scheme of criminality. Having prostate cancer does not help his situation either and having a bipolar wife with alcohol and drug problems definitely not help. Get a brother who is sleeping with his wife and the cops breathing down his neck, Uxbal’s life is not alone a mess but a well designed mess.

Alejandro again wants to underline the human nature spread across the globe acting in mysterious yet similar emotions. Uxbal is the connecting spindle through the axis of these people turning each other’s lives. There are no coincidence games as it is a familiar territory Alejandro has in all his films. Here it is simply the spiraling of a man who is dying very quickly. He wants to set things straight before he kicks out of this world. The only thing he wants to set things right are his children Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella). From the outlook they do not appear to have a great upbringing once Uxbal dies. He knows that and he has to act fast.

The film is not about him racing time but his inability to even sink in that fact that he is going to die. As someone hearing those words of doom from a doctor no one can believe it till it is happening. It is always the belief of one even in the dangerous world of Uxbal that the worst things in life are supposed to happen only for others and in films. The reality that anyone is vulnerable to this chaotic world takes more than one could think of to dial in their minds. Such is Uxbal’s case who continues his life knowing the disease and wandering clueless in his chores.

He has a gift too which is to talk with the dead if they cannot leave this world. He guides them in providing that peace which in film only takes marginal significance but pays a poetic end. Uxbal’s only options in leaving his kids in good hands are their mother Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). Marambra is a walking and talking disaster. Cheery, fun and unbelievably unpredictable Uxbal reunites with her as it appears as the only option. With this the few happiest things are nothing but momentary lapses in tiniest events in Uxbal’s daily life. This film takes hold of sadness, despair and hopelessness in this colourful town of Barcelona. We become desensitized to these perils within minutes as the world Uxbal survives is nothing but disappointments.

There are two other people apart from Uxbal finding abyss and slight hope as the film progresses. Uxbal’s good friend Senegalese Ekweme (Cheikh Ndiaye) gets caught by the police and gets deported. Ekweme is separated from his wife Ige (Diaryatou Daff) and his new born baby. Ige continues her life in Barcelona as Uxbal provides his rental apartment. Soon enough Uxbal will be back out there with his kids and hope for a peaceful death leaving his kids in safe hands. That is wishful thinking.

His Chinese client Hai (Taisheng Cheng) runs a sweat shop in horrific conditions. His secret lover and associate Liwei (Luo Jin) is authoritative and wants to run things in his terms. Uxbal also has another friend of the family in babysitter from the sweat shop Lili (Long Sofia Lin). All these little characters surrounding Uxbal tells something about this man. He is a nice man in this not so nice business of exploiting illegal immigrants. The sweat shop keeps the workers in a basement all sleeping alongside tight and closed woken up by their drill master sharply at 6:30 in the morning. The sight is inhuman and Uxbal is all aware of it but goes by the way the world he manages to get by. There comes another tragedy in that hell hole and soon we begin to believe that the only solace Uxbal is going to find is in his regretful death.

“Biutiful” is about people migrating and living in a strange world to make a simple life as their home country denied even that meager existence. But it is not alone about that as it is more about a father trying so hard to make his kids remember his face and not vanish in smokes of the time. I think “Biutiful” does not have a destination in emotional closure as one would expect from this film. This is simply the life condition of a human being in that situation and acts like one will and makes the realistic best of it in the worst case of the environment. There is a hollow feeling as the film ends and that may be what Alejandro aimed for. As much as this does not live up to the standards I set up for this director, this is a film performed with great determination by Javier Bardem to portray the state of humans in a not so human body shop.

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