Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Video review: "Biutiful"

While it's not a film for everyone, "Biutiful" has rich rewards for those who appreciate sad foreign films with elliptical storylines.

I admit I'm not usually a fan of these types of movies, but this moving drama from writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel," "21 Grams") stars Javier Bardem in an Oscar-nominated performance as a man caught between worlds. It's a heartbreaking film that is a joy to watch.

Bardem plays Uxbal, a conflicted man working the back alleys and sweatshops of Barcelona. He tries to find jobs and homes for illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa. Uxbal genuinely cares about these people, but he makes sure to get his cut of the action.

Meanwhile, he's face with the certainty that his terminal stage cancer will soon claim his life, and he struggles to secure a future for his two children in the face of his ex-wife's erratic mental state. One of the immigrants, a woman named Ige, comes to live with his family after her own is torn apart despite Uxbal's interventions.

The best thing about the film is the relationship between Uxbal and his ex-wife, Marambra (Maricel Álvarez). We sense the years of abuse and estrangement forming an ocean between them, but the deep ties of affection still bind them together. Uxbal's greatest test is whether he can resist her bottomless neediness for the betterment of their children.

The only element that doesn't really fit into this strange but wonderful mix is Uxbal's supernatural ability to speak with dead spirits. It's the one piece of this sad, sweet gumbo that just doesn't fit.

Extra features -- the same for Blu-ray and DVD versions -- are rather modest in scope, but impactful.
There's about six minutes of interviews with the principle actors, and a featurette on some of the second-tier crew. Most interesting is a 21-minute documentary shot by Iñárritu during production on a Flip cam. It's packed with behind-the-scenes moments that are worth visiting.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 2.5 stars

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