|Director Alejandro González Iñárritu|
Far from exhausting what I would like to say about Biutiful, given its DVD release yesterday, and given my now having watched it for a second time, I’d like to offer a few thoughts.
Biutiful follows Uxbal, a complex man who makes his living in the underworld of Barcelona, Spain. On one hand, he participates in the exploitation of immigrants, but on the other hand, he seems not indifferent to their plight. One could say that Uxbal feels for them, but one would have to hold this in tension with what Uxbal nonetheless does.
Uxbal is father of two small children, and the husband of an unstable wife. Discovering that he has only months to live, Uxbal seeks, among other things, reconciliation with his estranged wife, to be remembered by his children, and to raise enough money to ensure their security after he dies.
Javier Bardem (perhaps best remembered as Chigurh in No Country for Old Men) portrays Uxbal. Apparently, the Oscar nomination he received was the first to go to an actor preforming entirely in the Spanish language. While describing his own performance as “exhausting,” Bardem claims not to regret accepting the role. He speaks of his admiration for Uxbal’s “forgiveness [and] compassion, those things that the character has to bring from the very bottom of himself, to understand the world he is in, to make it a little better of a world for his kids.”
Iñárritu, that “almost unreasonably talented Mexican filmmaker“ (according to Ebert), finds in Biutiful his fourth major film. In his three previous three, he experimented with the way in which his narrative would unfold. Amores Perros, for example, finds three stories occurring simultaneously, while 21 Grams also has three stories but ones which move back and forth in time. In Babel, Ebert sees Iñárritu in “full command his technique,” but here in Biutiful, we follow one central character in a fairly straightforward and chronological manner.
Apparently Biutiful received a nine-minute standing ovation at Cannes. If you read the reactions people had to Biutiful, some note how in the theatres after the film ended, a good many simply stayed silently sitting in their seats for some time.
One of the great strengths consistently present in Iñárritu’s work is his ability to preserve the dignity of his characters, even the dignity of those who do reprehensible things. His past collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga, puts it best when he says that “as a writer you have to love your characters, even if you hate them. If you love the characters you hate, you’ll make them believable.”
I find this reminiscent of the following narration in Graham Greene’s The Power in the Glory: “When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity—that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corner of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”
So many filmmakers have suspended their imagination. Iñárritu’s integrity, on the other hand, appears uncompromising. Biutiful made 24 million dollars, which is to say, nothing, but in exchange, a film which challenges (and respects) its audience emerges.
For those unfamiliar with the film, two trailers can be found here and here. You might also consider the two-part interview (part I; part II) with Iñárritu wherein he describes his vision for the film. Finally, here is a scene of Uxbal with his daughter Ana.