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Biutiful

A 2011 movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Are My Affairs in Order?

  • Jan 29, 2011
Rating:
+4

Star Rating:


In spite of the cumbersome details, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful is essentially the story of a man who must put his affairs in order before he dies. His name is Uxbal (Oscar nominee Javier Bardem), and he has been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer, presumably of the prostate. He's a Barcelona career criminal, acting as an intermediary between the underworld and a sweatshop that produces phony designer handbags to sell on the streets. To make extra money, he negotiates to have the undocumented Chinese workers that produce the handbags lent out to a construction company looking to cut corners financially. One of them is his children's babysitter, who looks no older than fifteen or sixteen but already has a baby. There also ties to illegal Senegalese drug dealers, who are safe for as long as Uxbal can continue bribing the cops.
 
On top of that, there's his personal life. He's separated from his wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), who's bipolar and an alcoholic. He's left to care for his two children, Ana and Mateo (Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella), who he loves dearly. His greatest fear is that they won't remember him; he doesn't remember either of his parents, although he does have a old photograph of his father as a young man. He also wants to ensure that his children are cared for once he's gone, which will be difficult since his wife was clearly not meant to be a mother. She makes a go of it, though, by suggesting a train ride and a family vacation for Ana's birthday. He doesn't tell anyone how sick he is, initially because he desperately clings to the hope that he will beat his cancer.

                                              
                                                
Uxbal is sometimes called upon to speak with the spirits of the recently deceased, a service he will provide for a fee. It's not made explicitly clear if he's genuinely blessed with a sixth sense or merely telling grieving families what they want to hear, and an early scene at a memorial service for multiple children is of no help. We do know that he's friends with another professed medium named Bea (Ana Wagener), who knows that he will die. She suggests that he make peace with the dead. He's more inclined to make peace with the living by trying to improve on the lives of the immigrants he has exploited for who knows how long. Although unintended, one of these attempts will have very tragic results. He isn't sure whether he should do the decent thing and turn himself in. To me the answer is obvious, but then again, movies generally don't play by the rules of life.
 
He's trying to do some good with what little time he has left. This is admirable, but it's also expected in a movie like this. As touching and generally sound as the message is, some of the depicted injustices seem manufactured solely for the satisfaction of watching Uxbal redeem himself. He's not an innocent man, and yet we're forced to view him through a remarkably flattering lens, in all likelihood because of his illness. One wonders: What if he didn't have cancer? What if he was a perfectly healthy man who one day decided to start doing the right thing? That, to me, would add a lot more credibility to the film. Stories about people doing good deeds when faced with their own mortality have long since outgrown their ability to surprise me; they're in fact so commonplace that the very idea is just short of anticlimactic.

                                              
Despite a routine narrative, Iñárritu does a wonderful job of developing the characters and exploring the settings, the latter looking like anything but the idealistic Barcelona you might see in a tourism commercial. There's never the sense that the actors are merely tools for advancing the plot; they approach their roles realistically. As for Bardem, there's no denying the film benefits from his presence. His range of emotion doesn't seem forced, which is good during the first part of the movie and even better towards the end, when his illness becomes aggressive. In essence, he adds humanity to his character, making him relatable even in the face of a contrived story.
 
While not perfect, Biutiful (Mexico's entry in the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film) improves on much of what made me resist Iñárritu's previous film, Babel. It's not a meaningless display of suffering, but a story with a message I could relate to and care about. It's bookended by scenes that feature the same actors delivering the same lines; the only difference is the perspective, the order and angle of the shots. We're not meant to understand the meaning of the imagery or the dialogue until the end, but both instances lend a wonderful sense of serenity and acceptance. Perhaps the underlying message is that, if we make life a little better for others in this world, we will find peace in the next.

                                                 

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January 30, 2011
Just came back from watching this (just posted my own review), and I liked it as much as you did, but it certainly had some rough spots in the pacing. Still a great film, but I don't think it is for everybody. Bardem rules!
January 30, 2011
Yes, the film was a little too long. I'm glad I enjoyed this movie. I feared I would have to endure another "Babel," a film I immensely disliked.
January 30, 2011
Yes, watching this can be quite a chore but I liked it. Really? I liked Babel though I have to say it wasn't one of my favorites.
 
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More Biutiful reviews
review by . January 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Marathon of Despair, Self-Loathing And Remorse Of A Dying Man...
Films that depict a bleak, real and depressing story have always held an attraction to me. Not exactly sure as to why, but it seems like I may not be the only one since director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s second feature film after “Babel” and his first Spanish language directed film since Amores Perros has been nominated in the Best Foreign Language film category in 2011’s Academy awards. “Biutiful” is a film about a man who is dying from cancer and has only …
review by . June 07, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     "Biutiful", the new film from Spanish director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, plays out as some kind of test. A test of patience, a test of morality, or be it a test of our ability to perceive a film; "Biutiful" never stops testing in its decently lengthy running time. It's as ambitious and bold as any other Inarritu feature, and about as good as one too. Inarritu has made one of his best films yet with "Biutiful", which is as dreary as modern movies get.   &n …
review by . February 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
This movie isn't intended for people who plan to see Just Go With It or The Eagle. This movie is entrenched with misery and tragedy and followed by death. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu leaves nothing to chance in his effort to display tragedy of the human spirit. Everything about this movie from the characters to the environment is falling apart and there is little to do but sit there and be weighted down by people just trying to survive.   Inarritu tells the story of …
Quick Tip by . February 13, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
In case anyone wanted a little more insight into how the film was made, here is a link to my interview with Biutiful's beautiful star, Javier Bardem ... http://blacksheepreviews.blogspot.com/2011/0...iews-javier-bardem.html
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie

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  • Opened January 28, 2011 | Runtime:2 hr. 27 min.
  • R
    For disturbing images, language, some sexual content, nudity and drug use
  • A man tries to reconcile his desire to be good with his lawless ways in this dark drama from Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu. Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a man with a bright side and a dark side. Uxbal is a caring father but Uxbal is also a criminal who oversees a small underground empire alongside fellow crime boss Hai (Taisheng Cheng) and Uxbal's impulsive brother, Tito (Eduard Fernández). Uxbal's dealings range from drugs to construction, but unlike his partners in crime, he tries to treat those around him with dignity even as he trades in human misery. Uxbal's precarious world begins to collapse when he's diagnosed with a serious illness and told he has only a few weeks left to live; he tries to put his affairs in order in the time he has left, but realizes that few around him have any sense of responsibility.
  • Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Eduard Fernández, Diarytou Daff, Cheng Taishen
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
  • Genres: Psychological DramaDramaFamily Drama
  • Poster art for "Biutiful."
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