By Tye Van Horn
Elm Staff Writer
I have always been of the opinion that for art to make an emotional impact it must “make mountains.” If a movie is extremely cheery throughout, it gets bogged down by the sunshine and smiles; if it is consistently slow and sad, then one cannot feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. There must be a sense of change and conflict for the audience to relate or even to care about a story.
Biutiful fulfills this requirement, if not with flying colors, certainly respectably. The film has it’s highs, and it bathes in lows. Every clichéd woe imaginable befalls our main character Uxbal (Javier Bardem). By halfway through the movie, I found myself checking off an invisible list. He is a single father with a bipolar substance abuser of an ex-wife Marambra (Maricel Álvarez ) who occasionally hits her children and makes ends meet as a “masseuse,” quotes implied.
Uxbal deals with criminals in order to make a life for his children in the dark corners of the city of Barcelona, but he never becomes criminal himself. He is also psychic, talking with the recently deceased for money, though that element plays a surprisingly small role in the movie. His friends die or get imprisoned, and he is faced with having little opportunity to see his children. Oh yeah, and he has cancer.
The highs are far fewer but a fantastic breath of fresh air from the relentless heaviness. They appeared in the form of Uxbal’s beautiful children, Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella), and the few friends who survive until the end of the two and a half hour film. Without these characters and the fantastic acting job by Javier Bardem, the film would collapse under its own weight. The children are archetypal innocence and wisdom in a world of corruption and deceit. Uxbal’s love for them is evident and because of this pure connection, the emotion really does hit home despite the plethora of sinister characters that surround the tiny apartment in Barcelona.
The humanitarian values of Alejandro González Iñárritu are what truly differentiate the precarious balance of this movie and stop it from flopping as it easily could have. The characters were fleshed out beautifully and interacted in realistic, gritty ways, and the deliberate atmosphere ambiently reminiscent of David Lynch’s more abstract titles succeeded due to the fantastic camera work consistently serving each scene. The surreal and dreamlike asides create an aesthetic that sets apart the beautiful and the ugly, the light and the dark, the heaven and the hell.
This relentless, gritty tale of a community that must cut corners to make do gives an excellent sense of scene, and you really believe the world you are placed in. The question isn’t whether you accept it of course; it’s whether or not you can swallow it. The constant pain and stress of Uxbal as he urinates blood in his dark dirty bathroom while his ex-wife “massages” his brother a few blocks over is difficult to bear, and things occasionally get quite tense and even scary as you wonder how things could ever resolve themselves in such a hopeless situation.
As the lights went up, I found myself oddly calm and very satisfied with this surreal work. I suggest it to anyone who can hold the emotional weight that comes with it.
Best Line: “Look in my eyes. Look at my face. Remember me, please. Don’t forget me, Ana. Don’t forget me, my love, please.”
Worst line: “I hope that the heaters will make you less cold.”