Earlier this (Oscar) year when I saw Black Swan I thought it was fantastic. Saw it three times in theaters and downloaded online to hold me over until the DVD comes out. It was like a second wind for me in terms of the (Oscar) year when I hadn’t really had my favorite ‘film’ of the year yet. But ultimately, as much as I LOVE Black Swan, it seems like a second wind of the same old American Movie Air. Luckily, Biutiful is like a breath of whole new fresh Foreign Movie Air.
As you would expect with a foreign film, this movie just feels different. Even though Uxbal is involved in illegal activities, never are his actions glamorized. Never is the life of crime exploited. This isn’t something Uxbal is doing ‘because its the only thing he knows how to do’ or to feel cool like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas. This is something he has to do in order to provide the bare essentials for his family.
Uxbal just wants the best for his kids, Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella). The kids play earnest, young children who are curious and honest with their father. They aren’t just plot devices or something forcibly written in to raise the stakes for Uxbal’s character. They have dreams and quirks of their own. As does Uxbal’s estranged wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). Uxbal knows his kids need a mother but struggles with the fact that even though Marambra wants to be with and love her kids, she can not support them or even be a good parent to them. She acts even more childish then they do.
The kids are forced to grow up fast and its clear in some scenes that they have to take care of themselves or are on their own a lot. Its nice to see in some scenes the kids get to be kids and the film really pulls you and makes just a simple thing like eating ice cream with the family a joyous occasion.
One of the coolest parts is how the writers (Inarritu, Armando Bo, and Nicolas Giacobone) make Barcelona not just a Spanish town, but a diverse, culturally united city. This doesn’t feel like Spanish film as it does a World Film. Spanish, African, and Asian cultures seamlessly slide together. This will obviously draw comparisons to Inarritu’s previous film Babel.
As I mention in The Story, Uxbal also has a supernatural gift of being able to see/hear the dead. This is never explained or described in great detail, but it does serve as an interesting and off putting way of keeping death in the foreground in a very personal form. While the whole movie strives to be uber realistic we get this very odd device sprinkled just enough here and there to add a literary element to the movie.
As if the characters, acting, and writing weren’t all great as they are, the film also excels at making everything just look beautiful (yes I know that’s like the name of the movie. How appropriate). I don’t know the last time I saw colors come together like that on the screen and make each frame look like a cinematic painting. The camera is mostly handheld but always reflective of our main characters inner thoughts. Sometimes hectic and panicked, sometimes calm and cool.
There may be moments that seem to drag on a bit, but again that’s part of the Fresh Foreign Air I described earlier. This isn’t a film filtered through test audience after test audience, but rather artist after artist. I’m not going to say its absolutely perfect, but because it isn’t or trying to be it feels so refreshing.
In Conclusion: There’s really not much to say other than this is an absolutely brilliant, gorgeous film. The only problem is that I don’t think this hit me on a gut level the way some other films have. But then again I don’t think Taxi Driver did too the first time I saw it and now I feel as if that is one of the most peronal films I can watch.
In a couple of years I might have more life experiences to be able to relate more and make this a ‘go-to’ film, but even if it never reaches that level, its still expertly crafted.
Final Grade: A-