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Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this drama portraying a father's love for his children amidst a life of poverty and crime in Barcelona. Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a black market trader, psychic medium and single father of two who learns that he has terminal cancer. Amid the grimy, lawless backstreets of the city, Uxbal battles the odds to find some kind of redemption and make arrangements for his two children and his estranged, mentally unstable wife, Marambra (Hanaa Bouchaib), after his death.
For more about Biutiful and the Biutiful Blu-ray release, see Biutiful Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 19, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Eduard Fernández, Diarytou Daff, Cheng Taishen, Cheikh Ndiaye
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
» See full cast & crew
Biutiful Blu-ray Review
How much heartache can you stand?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 19, 2011
Biutiful made history this year when it became the first ever film to snag a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for a performance delivered entirely in Spanish. This bleak, dour and relentlessly depressing film is undoubtedly a tour de force for star Javier Bardem, but at almost two and a half hours, this is a film that simply never lets up emotionally and may simply prove to be too exhausting a trial for many audience members to endure. Writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu has proven himself to take no prisoners with potential viewers in such previous films as Amores Perros and Babel. Iñárritu is a filmmaker who loves to wallow in the horrors of desperate characters, and there is so much wallowing throughout Biutiful that the film's title becomes almost like a taunt, daring you to find some small measure of grace and salvation in a world of sordid people doing sordid things. Bardem's character Uxbal has a good heart at least and is trying in his own way to provide for his two children, but he's caught up in a world of crime, has a bi-polar wife whom he can't trust with the kids, and on top of everything else, he's just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Good times, eh?
When the Neorealists had their heyday in the post-World War II film world, it was like a shot in the arm to a public that had spent the previous decades feasting on escapist fare that helped them forget the horrors of worldwide Depression and, then, the global calamity of World War II. It may seem odd that after things at least pretended to quiet down, at least for a year or two, that film should suddenly erupt with gritty and grimy accounts of the "little people," usually shot in a verité style that seemed to deliberately go against accepted glossy film production values. There's something of that same ethos in a lot of Iñárritu's work, although he invariably crafts, well, beautiful images within contexts that can hardly ever be considered pretty in any real way.
Uxbal lives in a fetid apartment in Barcelona, eking out a living by selling bootlegged items like DVDs churned out by a basically slave labor force of illegal Chinese immigrants who are being held captive in a squalid warehouse by one of Uxbal's business partners. Uxbal has some actual remorse about their living conditions, and one of the major subplots has to do with him buying heaters to keep them warm at night. Do you think that putative good deed turns out for the best? Think again. This is Iñárritu and Biutiful. Things are almost always worse than they seem.
Biutiful is an incredibly expressive film, brought to life by a magnificent performance by Bardem, who has never been better. But the film itself is virtually intolerable at times, so horrible are these people's lives and so cruel is fate to most of them. Uxbal's wife is a manic-depressive mess who is either cheating on him with his own brother, talking a mile a minute in one of her manic phases, or near catatonic when the depression hits. Uxbal's "army" of salesmen decide to dabble in dealing drugs, leading to a major police crackdown so that many of them are deported back to Senegal, leaving Uxbal feeling guilty about Ige, a young woman with a child who had been shacked up with one of these guys. The Chinese workers are another horrible sob story, and then there are Uxbal's own kids, sweet if unruly children who can see their parents in a fractious state and who aren't above acting out. As if all this horror isn't enough, it turns out Uxbal is "gifted" and can speak with the dead, something that plays into the film in a patently surreal and creepy way in several segments. (Keep your eye on the ceilings of various settings is my best advice).
So the bottom line in Biutiful becomes, how much heartache can you stand? There is literaly only one truly happy moment in this two and a half hour film, a brief scene where Uxbal and his wife have reconciled, at least for the moment, and share a sloppy melted ice cream dinner with their kids. That's it. (A brief birthday party later in the film is colored by Uxbal's impending demise, which is imminent). Otherwise, one hideous thing after another happens. It's an emotionally wrenching experience that is probably going leave most people absolutely drained and exhausted, and the last sequence as well as the bookending segments are both ambiguous and simultaneously pointing toward yet another tragedy in the life of Uxbal.
Despite the relentless downer that Biutiful is, it's one of Iñárritu's most visually assured films yet. Long lingering shots of water stains on the ceiling or ants crawling up a screen door may not seem like the stuff of gorgeous filmmaking, but Iñárritu manages to imbue these weird elements with a certain degree of poetry that adds to the emotional turmoil Uxbal and his family and cohorts are experiencing. This film plays out like a fever dream, a nightmare in fact from which Uxbal can never escape. That in and of itself brings forth a very cogent question: how many audience members are going to be pining for that very same egress after being introduced to all of these desperate characters?
Caveat Emptor: The review disc I was sent seems to have an authoring error, albeit slight. Pressing play from the main menu actually starts the film at what seem to be random chapter stops (it started in different places each time). Therefore if you encounter this problem, it's easiest to begin the film from the scenes selection menu).
Biutiful Blu-ray, Video Quality
Note: The film was intentionally shot in two different aspect ratios, 2.39:1 and 1.85:1, which our screen capture units have shown here. I'm not sure if this really conveys something incredibly important going on on a subconcious level, as the film's DP has suggested. The filmmakers' intentions are hobbled by this Blu-ray transfer in any case, as the 1.85:1 AR plays "full screen" (more or less) and the 2.39:1 elements appear masked, with the typical black bars at top and bottom, which seems to defeat the stated intention of "opening up" the look of the film as Uxbal releases control of his life. All of that said, you film buffs may remember the critical analyses that accompanied Lindsay Anderson's 'If. . .', which was filmed in both color and black and white, where a lot of critics claimed to see some method to the various film stocks utilized. Anderson is on record stating they simply ran out of money and couldn't afford color film for the entire shoot.
Iñárritu has crafted a deliberately bleak and depressing vision throughout a lot (if not most) of Biutiful, but that doesn't necessarily mean this film isn't absolutely stunning to watch. With a really deeply textured and impeccably saturated AVC/1080p transfer, this film often belies its sad and doleful countenance to reveal the unexpected beauty in the squalor and poverty of Barcelona's underclass. Filled with deep and evocative shadows which dance across a light that hints of a sun past its prime, this transfer is filled with dark, but inviting, shadow detail. Fine detail throughout is excellent, sometimes disturbingly so in terms of the grit and grime these people try to exist in. Some of that grime and grit is intentionally exaggerated by a really intense grain structure. Iñárritu also has a number of outright surreal elements that play into weirdly distorted sequences, where colors bleed and the image becomes literally twisted. This film is not easy to watch in terms of content, but as far as the image goes, it's a solid 10 all the way.
Biutiful Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Biutiful is a Spanish language film with no English dub available, and so its one soundtrack option is the original Spanish in an appealing lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Though the film plays out in a series of small scale dialogue scenes, we're surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, and it's there that this soundtrack engages in its cinematic surround qualities most successfully. One huge set scene involving a police raid is completely immersive and filled with a wealth of great sonic detail. Fidelity is excellent throughout this track, and for a non-action film, there's a really amazing amount of dynamic range here, with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track picking up everything from Uxbal's faintest whisper to his wife's hysterics and some loud rock music playing at his brother Tito's, as well as a kind of disturbing party scene at a strip joint.
Biutiful Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Biutiful Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There is no getting around the fact that Biutiful is an incredibly involving, emotionally devastating experience. But that very relentlessly dour quality will be also unbelievably off-putting and just downright depressing for a lot of viewers. The fact that the film lasts close to two and a half hours may make it simply unbearable for some people to get through. This is a challenging, deeply felt experience, and my advice is if you can handle this sort of downer, take a deep breath and jump into one of the most commanding performances of this or any year. Recommended.
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Biutiful Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Biutiful Blu-ray Announced - March 8, 2011
Lionsgate Home Entertainment has announced Biutiful for Blu-ray release on May 31. This Academy Award nominated Spanish-language drama, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, stars Javier Bardem as a man living on the wrong side of the law who struggles to provide ...
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