Saturday, February 5, 2011


A man learns that he has terminal cancer.  How does one cope with that great sadness, especially in circumstances where you have small children, and entire family you support?  There's a quiet poignancy in that story, plus the emotional hook of cancer being sad, all by itself.  A man such as this is the central figure of Biutiful, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's galvanizing Babel-ing Spanish melodrama.  The problem is that, while the central cathartic unraveling of the main character, superbly played with brimming soul and passion by Oscar-nominated Javier Bardem, is the lack of confidence demonstrated by Inarritu being Inarritu.  It's not enough for Bardem's Uxbal to suffer, he must wear the weight of the world upon his broad shoulders, driven down the hard beaten auteurial martyrdom treatment.  The miseries must pile upon each other, trample each other, with competing agendas and different international mouthpieces at work.  What should be a soaring piece of emotional cinema ends up a didactic, self important film too full of itself to beat the heartstrings.

All that leaves is a wonderfully strong, cavernous performance that should be rightly heralded for what it is, sitting off to the side to Inarritu's smug indulgences.  The quiet dignity of Bardem should be enough to sustain a mood, the quiet mundane, and often moving daily trials of a sick man caring and loving his two small children.  But we must also be bogged down by Uxbal's bipolar wife, and obnoxious nut whose baggage, seemingly only added to up the tragic ante, slowly becomes grating and too far outside the real world.  Then there's the business exchanges of Uxbal.  Including a duplicitous Asian man (and his secret gay love), a sweat shop team of sad, exploited Asians, and a black drug dealing illegal immigrant who must have a faithful and lovely wife and a small and lovely child.  The miseries pile up and up, and when the further familial crises of Uxbal's childhood are revealed, I had to call uncle!  Slow, pretentious, depressing art house cinema is usually something I fully support, however this smug, miserable tragedy vexes and irritates to the point of causing nothing but anger and empathy.  D

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