Review: Biutiful

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Javier Bardem in BiutifulThere are certain films we watch repeatedly, whether it’s because it makes us laugh, warms our hearts, gets our adrenaline pumping or is simply a masterwork. Then there are films you only feel the need to watch once – not because it’s bad or boring, but because the original experience was so strong viewing it again would lack the initial’s impact. After watching Biutiful, you may not feel the need to do it again because it’s very emotionally draining, but it definitely warrants at least one screening.

Biutiful is a love story between a father and his children. This is the journey of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. His livelihood is earned out of bounds, while his sacrifices for his children know no bounds. Like life itself, this is a circular tale that ends where it begins.

The narrative is incredibly powerful as we watch Uxbal’s many interactions with his community. Despite the illegalness of most of his transactions, he appears to genuinely care about the people around him and is trying to do the best he can by them. There are certain plot developments that can be easily predicted, but the film is not trying to be mysterious so this has little effect on its overall impression. On the other hand, watching the events slowly unfold in stunning form is one of the film’s most compelling attributes. The other is the acting.

Bardem is exceptional. Therefore, it’s not surprising he has been nominated in the best actor category for most of the major ceremonies, including the Academy Awards. His struggles as a father, middle man and spiritualist are deeply felt throughout the film. Bardem is the driving force behind the entire narrative and he is flawless in every situation. His children, played by Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella, have to display many emotions while remaining natural and they do so very well. Maricel Álvarez, who plays Uxbal’s wife Marambra, is noteworthy. Her manic behaviour and constant, even if underlying, desperation is wholly realistic, forcing audiences into a similarly conflicting position about her character as Uxbal. There are many other supporting roles, all of which showcase excellent performances and without which the film would have fallen to pieces because Bardem’s character relies so heavily on these interactions.

For a film titled Biutiful, it’s difficult to see an overall beauty in Uxbal’s life. He’s surrounded by hardship and loss – except for those rare moments of tranquility and beauty that fleetingly brightens all of our lives, such as his children’s smiles or a wonder of nature. Conversely, the film itself is stunning. The cinematography is outstanding, capturing the minimalist lives of the characters and their environment. In addition, the film looks like the colours have been bled out, now just a dull imitation of what it could be or once was, matching the helplessness of the characters.

This is a truly beautiful film and will be fierce competition for Canada’s Incendies at the Oscars for the best foreign language award.

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