What I’ve Been Watching: Biutiful

Biutiful.jpgWhen reflecting upon a film’s story, it’s interesting to note what plots we consider convoluted. While it’s easy to see the massive coincidences, misunderstands and contrivances at the heart of a typical romcom, other more serious dramas can just as easily fall into the same trap.

If a filmmaker is not careful, they can lose their audience by going one plot twist too far. Unfortunately Biutiful is one of these films.

In it, it is revealed in the opening fifteen minutes that Javier Bardem’s character has terminal cancer. His wife is a manic depressive who is sleeping with his brother. Finally, he earns his money by getting illegal immigrants jobs, which it is safe to assume will get him into further trouble as the film progresses.

After a while, I began to lose the point of the film. Is it telling us life is tough? Is it telling us losing parents is tough? Is it a supreme example of the things parents must do to support their kids?

A Serious Man examined the issue of suffering through the prism of dark comedy. This seems like a much more inviting way to handle this important topic. At the end of Biutiful all I could safely say is that for some people life sucks.

Despite all this, Iñárritu, who also directed the excellent Babel, is still a filmmaker I admire. Regardless of my problems with the bleakness of the film, there was still something about it I ultimately liked; its philosophy and tone make watching it a peculiar experience I find it difficult to describe. It’s strange mix of superstition and social realism grounding it within the Hispanic culture.

It’s worth noting that other Hispanic films such as Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky), Volver, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage all share this mix of fantasy and dark reality. As though within the Hispanic culture the only way to cope with difficult circumstances is to create a fantasy around it. American directors such as Tim Burton and The Coen Brothers, may also work with fantasy, but it seems to be for entirely different reasons that these Hispanic directors do.

All of this is just a long way of saying that Biufiul is a film I had problems with. However, there is still something about it I admired. Quite what that is, I’m not entirely sure, but the uniqueness of its voice makes it a film difficult to dismiss entirely.


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