Lionsgate // 2010 // 148 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 26th, 2011
"Look in my eyes. Look at my face. Remember me, please. Don't forget me, Ana. Don't forget me, my love, please." -- Uxbal
Biutiful is the fourth film from acclaimed film director Alejandro González Iñárritu, preceded by Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. This one is not going to change anybody's mind who criticizes the director for being obsessed with grim and depressing subject matter that dwells on the dark side of humanity. Despite staying true to hopeless form, the film marks the return to his native Spanish language for Iñárritu. It also establishes the first time that a lead actor has ever been nominated for an Oscar for a role performed entirely in Spanish. Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) lost the statue to Colin Firth (The King's Speech), but he still made history.
Biutiful tells the story of Uxbal (Bardem), a single father struggling to figure out how to make a better life for his children while his own spirals downward into the abyss. He's living in Barcelona and trying to dodge the personal demon of his bipolar alcoholic wife who he is separated from. He also has to illegally help a group of immigrants, for whom he obtains material so they can escape being deported by selling knockoff handbags. He helps them with some very squalid living conditions. He also does minor criminal acts involving drugs and petty theft. During all of this he is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and he desperately tries to hide his illness from his kids. He has two months to do good things for the people around him, although not all of them work out the way he plans.
There will be no argument that it is Bardem's stunning performance that keeps the film grounded with a ragged elegance that transcends any of the melodrama that the tragedy-heavy plot could slip into. He does fine work here, giving the character an earthy humanity that helps the narrative immensely. The actor can say entire monologues in his face without ever speaking a word, and he shows grief and joy easily with just a glance. His hound dog good looks and general likeability endear the character to the audience.
The director uses a very hypnotic visual language to weave his tale. Iñárritu gives us the seamy world of Barcelona's underground, and makes that the setting for Uxbal's last days. It's interesting how the setting feels authentic, but still has a magic movie quality that is unmistakable. It is a theatrical reality but feels genuine and not forced. It looks fantastic and gritty all at once.
This disc does a great job with the feature. The ironically beautiful images are the attraction, and the Blu-ray renders them quite well for the home theater. Flesh tones look very real and colors are nicely saturated. There is a slight wash of grain that gives it a filmic quality. The playful lossless audio only has the Spanish language track, and it does a wonderful job of immersing the viewer in the streets of Barcelona. It is quite busy and well executed.
Extras include a twenty minute feature called a director's flipbook. It is made up of personal videos and audio recordings of the director as he assembled the concept of the film. Also included are three interviews with the cast and crew, totaling eight minutes. Finally, there is a funny four-minute featurette that introduces the technical crew in a unique way.
One effect that seems to be lacking in the Blu-ray version of the film is the transition between the 1.85:1 aspect ratio to a wider 2.40:1 look. In the cinema this was meant to be an allegory for when Uxbal opens up his life, but on this transfer what happens is the first aspect takes up the whole screen and then it goes to the black bars which frame the image. It loses the meaning of the allegory visually.
Biutiful is a mournful meditation on desperately clinging to integrity when all hope is lost. Even though it has a heart of darkness, there are rays of hope whenever we get to see this doomed man love his children. Biutiful works because Javier Bardem's face can convey everything it wants to do narratively.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Production Diary