Depressing, Lewd Character Study
Release Date: January 28, 2010
Starring: Javier Bardem, Maricel
Alvarez, Eduard Fernandez,
Ruben Ochandiano, Luo Jin,
Runtime: 147 minutes
Distributor: Roadside Attractions
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Executive Producer: David Linde
Producer: Alejandro González
Iñárritu, Fernando Bovairo,
Writer: Alejandro González
Iñárritu, Amando Bo, Nicolas
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The movie opens with a dream sequence, which is later revealed [spoiler alert] to be the dead man meeting his father, who also died young, in the afterlife. After sharing a joke, and a smoke, the father says, “What’s that over there?” That’s how the opening sequence ends, and the movie’s last shot recapitulates that scene.
Back to present day, the movie follows Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, as he discovers he only has a couple months to live, even with chemotherapy. Uxbal is working with Chinese and African immigrants to make and sell knockoff designer products and pirated videos. Uxbal also makes some money acting as a spiritualist medium to relatives of people who have just died. Meanwhile, he and his brother, Tito, work out a deal with a Spanish construction site to use the Chinese immigrants as cheap labor.
Uxbal knows he’s exploiting the immigrants. So, to assuage his conscience, he has gotten the Chinese immigrants a higher non-union wage than the construction site really wants to pay. Also, when immigration officials arrest one of the African immigrants, Ubal lets the man’s wife and baby stay at his old apartment while he and his children move back with his estranged bipolar wife, who seems to have gotten better. Finally, Uxbal has bought some cheap space heaters for the illegal Chinese immigrants, who live in the basement of the warehouse run by a Chinese man. By the way, the Chinese warehouse owner, though married with children, is having a secret homosexual affair with another Chinese street criminal.
Then, just as Uxbal is putting aside a small nest egg and inheritance for his children, an awful tragedy strikes. Making matters worse, Uxbal’s wife doesn’t get along with his young son, Matteo, and is prone to hitting him. Of course, Uxbal doesn’t know that, when he and his wife were separated, she was having an affair with his brother, Tito.
This movie is not completely depressing. It does show Uxbal sharing some joyful moments with his two children and a couple of the immigrants. He clearly cares about his children.
That said, BIUTIFUL is slow, too long and too depressing. Though there are a couple Christian elements in the meandering plot, they are very light and don’t amount to much. In fact, they are undercut by the protagonist’s apparent ability to communicate with the dead, though the movie suggests that sometimes he may lie to comfort grieving relatives and, of course, get the money his children need to take care of them when he dies.
Ultimately, it’s the protagonist’s own stupidity and greed that lead to the movie’s biggest tragedy. At that point, all the sympathy the movie has built up for his situation seems to fly out the window.
BIUTIFUL also contains a lot of foul street language. There’s also a homosexual kissing scene, a lewd interlude between the estranged wife and the brother, some disturbing scenes of death and corpses, and lots of female nudity when the protagonist, who’s now completely despondent, visits the strip bar his brother appears to own (though that’s unclear in the movie).
Finally, someone should tell the director, an acclaimed but overrated and self-indulgent Mexican filmmaker, to go back to film school and learn something about how to construct a real plot and more interesting, more likeable, more entertaining characters that actually make some sense. If he still wants to make meandering plots and character studies, he really has to learn to reduce the running time of his movies down to 90 or 100 minutes. WILD STRAWBERRIES by Ingmar Bergman, one of the greatest character studies and studies of a life ever made by anyone anywhere, is only 91 minutes. BIUTIFUL clocks in at an excruciating 147 minutes.
BIUTIFUL is a meandering, overlong arthouse movie filled with despair and occasional tragedy, with a vague hope that things may be better in the afterlife. Though the protagonist clearly cares about his children, this is a very depressing movie. Even worse, it has excessive foul language and nudity, strong sexual content, and disturbing images of death and violence. A character study like this needs to be much shorter or much less depressing and immoral to be truly effective.