Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): **1/2
The acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) often outlines complex, multi-character stories with a heavy hand, and it could be argued that his serious, socially-aware tales are designed more for awards and accolades than they are for personal or artistic reasons. By contrast, Iñárritu's friends and colleagues Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron have tended to concentrate on more visual, personal, and intelligent genre pictures, and have received far less praise. Iñárritu's new Biutiful is dedicated to the filmmakers' father, but it doesn't feel personal so much as it feels calculated, as if the film were more concerned with the reactions of all the fathers in the audience rather than any genuine experience.
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) lives a complicated life in Barcelona, Spain. He makes his living as a kind of middleman between Chinese businessmen, Chinese laborers and Senegalese immigrants who sell cheap goods on the street. Trouble arises when he learns that the salesman are also hustling drugs on the side. Additionally, his bipolar, drug-addict ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez) re-enters his life and tries to establish a shaky connection with Uxbal's two children. He must also decide whether to sell his father's burial plot to a company that wants the land. In the midst of trying his best to help everyone involved, he learns that he has cancer. All of this is balanced with Uxbal's most secret facet: that he has the power to communicate with the dead.
As the plot synopsis shows, Biutiful throws everything but the kitchen sink (and even that) into its plot, including cancer, divorce, death, bipolar disorders, and adultery. The supernatural aspect, which might be the focus of any other film, is more or less tossed away here, mainly for lack of time. It's just as busy and grave as Iñárritu's earlier films -- the hand-held camerawork continually draws attention to itself -- but it does have the benefit of a single lead character rather than an ensemble. In his role, Bardem gives a terrific, organic performance, providing a much-needed intuitive quality to an overly-planned work; he received an Oscar nomination in addition to the film's nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. He gives the movie soul, and even beauty. The title, taken from a child's drawing, is deliberately misspelled.
The DVD and Blu-Ray release from Lionsgate includes Behind Biutiful: Director's Flip Notes, Biutiful Crew, interviews with the cast and crew and a trailer.
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