Thursday, 17 February 2011


2010. Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella and Eduard Fernandez. ●●●●○

Inarritu's first film without screen-writing partner Guillermo Arriaga (the split appears to be permanent) is a departure in stlye from the multi-character story arcs he's used to, but the overriding themes of multiculturalism and the interconnectivity of fate remain. The miserablist Biutiful reminds us that life is cheap and full of heartache, even it's brushes with magical realism do nothing to lift the spirits of the audience.

Barcelona criminal Javier Bardem is having a bad time, his schizophrenic wife has abandoned the family and is casually sleeping with his brother, the illegal immigrants he acts as a conduit for police bribery are hawking their goods in the wrong area, and his connection with the recently deceased is getting out of hand. Plus he's also dying of Stomach cancer so of course it's down to Bardem to ensure that his daughter is able to spell Beautiful succesfully (needless to say he doesn't totally achieve this).

Ultimately the plot is irrelevant - this is a movie about suffering - it explores the lengths to which Bardem's soul is able to deal with the inequality of life and the desparation of his circumstances. It's deliberately bleak with further trials heaping themselves on his fractured conscience.

Bardem's performance is superb, the suffering is etched onto his face. As is Maricel Alvarez as his imbalanced wife, neither overplaying nor sugarcoating her mental illness.

The star though is Barcelona, unrecognisable to the tourists in it's handling of the inherent poverty and underclass of major city life. The production design is also superb, each flat, each factory, each location seems recognisable and lived in with the subtle distinctions of class, taste and ambition.

There is also a refreshing sense that this film is for adults, the visions of the dead that Bardem is subjected to are fleeting and on the edge of the screen, the relationship is referred to without being overt. Visual metaphors on the delicacy of life are allowed to drift in the shadows but aren't forced down the viewers throats. Saying there there are obvious attempts to elicit emotion from the audience. There is a tragic event about three quarters of the way through which would be enough in itself but due to the characters involved pushes us to an unnecessary extent. The simplicity of the bookend, snowbound scenes are much more poignant - especially in the closing credits.

I would recommend this film, but take a tissue and be prepared: there are no happy endings in Inarittu movies.


Alex in Movieland said...

oh, I haven't seen this yet. I AM a bit anxious, even though I would've rather seen Ryan for that 5th slot.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

But, Alex Bridges should be the one tossed out of the lineup (sight unseen when it comes to Bardem, though). Hee.

I'm really antsy to see this one.

TomS said...

As always, a great review... I hope to see this film soon. Bardem is poetic in his native Spanish...I can't wait!

Runs Like A Gay said...

It's going to be the middle of the year before I see Blue Valentine (DVD release) so I can't comment on who deserves to have been dropped from the running but Javier's performance is perfectly judged.

I'm amazed I've seen this before all three of you - usually I'm always playing catch-up.