Writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu just earned his third Oscar nomination for his new film Biutiful starring Oscar nominee Javier Bardem, who also picked up his third nomination. Inarritu was previously nominated for best picture and director for his multifaceted and stirring film Babel. Before that, he directed Naomi Watts and Benico del Toro to Oscar nominations in 21 Grams. I say all this to point out the prestige behind Inarritu’s work; he has always been an artistically gifted and talented director who impresses us with his ensemble work. Biutiful is quite different; the focus is on one man, but the varying degree of subplots remains one of Inarritu’s trademarks.
A bipolar wife, two starving children, illegal immigrants, visions of the dead, and the discovery of prostate cancer are just a few of the problems in Uxbal’s life. In a rundown part of Mexico where jobs are scarce, Uxbal (Bardem) is trying to keep his world from crashing in. He loves his two children, who are at the forefront of his attention. His ability to keep balance in his life has been severely crippled by the discovery of late stage cancer and only having a couple of months to live. As Uxbal attempts to make enough money for his small children to survive on, he also must decide who is the best person for them to live with.
When Uxbal’s daughter Ana asks him how to spell Beautiful, he replies “it’s just like it sounds”. However, nothing in this film is as simple as how it might sound. This could be one of the most depressing pictures of the year, and that isn’t to say Inarritu’s other films are any different. With 21 Grams and Babel, we see characters put in dire and trying circumstances that they don’t always survive. Inarritu’s screenplays feed off of the pain of his characters. Biutiful is different, however, because all of the film's trauma is lumped on the shoulders of one man. Halfway through the film I was perplexed as to why Bardem was nominated over the more obvious Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine choice. However, by the end of the film, Bardem’s character weight slightly edges out Gosling's very compelling performance.
Biutiful is the weakest of Inarritu’s films mostly because he tries to tell more story than we actually need. With multiple main characters, Inarritu’s zigzag story lines have worked, but here there is a lot of butter and not enough bread. Bardem is the film's only saving grace; he melts into this character as he does every character he plays. It’s a far cry from his other acclaimed performances, but just because it’s his most difficult doesn’t mean it’s his best. Biutiful is one of those films you can’t imagine watching a second time, and Inarritu’s budget is much smaller here than his previous pictures.
Final Thought – Bardem is the films only stand out.
By: Dustin Chase W.
Editor: Michael Woody