The cancer stricken human trafficking movie of the year is here. Seriously, if you’re into human traffickers going through chemotherapy, Biutiful is the movie for you. I’ve got to imagine these Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu movies play to the specific niches of audiences who love to feel bad about really specific things like tourist shooting language barriers.
I’m not a fan of Inarritu movies because I don’t like movies that wallow in misery showing how sad actors can act. Biutiful is the least obnoxious of his films I’ve seen. Uxbal (Javier Bardem) pees blood and goes through chemotherapy because he’s only got a few months to live. He tries to cram in some quality time with his kids while he sells some Chinese immigrants to a sweatshop. He even goes back to his bipolar wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). There are a few bright spots of reconciliation and eating ice cream, but still mostly moping.
One thing Biutiful has going for it is that it’s told in chronological order. The other Inarritu films go out of order, and tell multiple stories so you can be blown away when you see how they connect in the end. Biutiful opens with Uxbal telling someone the story of his mother’s ring, so you can go “ah ha!” when you see who he’s giving the ring to at the end, but that’s normal storytelling. The opening and closing are in widescreen but most of the movie is a smaller frame, giving the film visual bookends.
Also Uxbal is psychic. He goes to a childrens’ funeral to read the thoughts of the deceased and upsets the mom. Later when all the sweatshop workers die in a gas leak, Uxbal can exorcise his guilt by asking them forgiveness. Well, it’s a better, more subtle take on the afterlife than Hereafter. Still miserable and depressing, but more happens in Biutiful.
Bardem really gets to show his talent. Uxbal gets angry at the sweatshop bosses, reflective with his children, sad when he confesses his guilt and cries, physically ill when he collapses under his cancer symptoms. Why watch this though, just to see someone act? I guess to investigate the personal life of a slave trader. It’s not the kind of drama where you get a visceral catharsis from the experience though. It’s just wallowing in cancer and death and viewing dead bodies and feeling guilty about death.
It’s also two and a half hours long. I thought we were in the home stretch when the film went back to widescreen, but no. Only when Uxbal starts telling the same ring story again do we get the relief of wrapping up, and it still stretches to 150 minutes.