Cannes Review: Alejandro González Iñárritu's Latest 'Biutiful'
by Alex Billington
May 18, 2010
It took six days, but I finally may have found my favorite film of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. I've already seen a few good films, a few okay films, and a few terrible films in Cannes, but Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful is the first incredible film I've seen. Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a troubled father living with two children in present day Barcelona, and he gives one of the festival's single greatest performances. If he doesn't end up getting an award in Cannes for his performance or at the Oscars next year, I'll be surprised. Biutiful is powerful, depressing, and emotional, but also an incredibly "beautiful" film (to use that cliche).
I don't want to give away too much of the story, but Uxbal is a person who sort of deals outside-of-the-law in Barcelona. He helps a group of Chinese immigrants work illegal jobs that pay under the table which provide knock-off products that Senegalese immigrants then sell illegally on the streets. He doesn't deal in drugs anymore, but that was once part of his past life. His wife is a prostitute with bipolar disorder and he has two children whom he loves very much. But he soon discovers that he may not be alive much longer and we're taken on an emotional journey after he learns that news. But that's not the only big problem he encounters.
This is the first film Iñárritu has made without screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel previously. It's a fresh new story from Iñárritu, but it has the same depth and intricate storylines that he loves playing with. He's one of the best directors for a reason - I love his visuals because they're so gritty and raw yet they don't overpower the emotion and the performances and the story itself. It takes a lot to really get me emotionally invested in a film nowadays, especially one set in a country that I don't live in, but he pulled it off with Biutiful, and I was able to feel the struggles and emotional hardships that Uxbal had to go through. That alone is a fantastic achievement but that's not all this film has to offer.
My favorite film of Cannes last year was Un Prophete and I think it's fairly accurate to compare Biutiful to Un Prophete in terms of the emotional journey it takes the audience on. I could also compare it to City of God, and although Biutiful doesn't reach those levels of brilliance (that's one of my all-time faves), it does certainly come close. The script is beautifully crafted, but it's the heart of the story, the skill of Iñárritu as a director, and Bardem's performance that make this one of the best films of Cannes. This is definitely a film that will get some buzz when it makes its way to the US. It may be depressing, but it's still a fantastic film. I would take this any day over the dry, boring, and pointless Mike Leigh film that also showed here in Cannes.