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Friday, July 1, 2011

Biutiful Blu-ray Review

Nominated for two 2010 Academy Awards - Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Javier Bardem, who masterfully takes on the role of Uxbal, a man living on the wrong side of the law who struggles to provide for his children on the dangerous streets of Barcelona.  As fate encircles him, Uxbal learns to accept the realities of life, whether bright, bad – or biutiful – in this unforgettable film. Honored with multiple awards including Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival and a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe nomination, this drama based on a short story by director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perros) is a powerful one.


Film (4 out of 5 stars)

Biutiful is a bleak but very moving film that provides an impressive showcase for Javier Bardem’s talents.   Director Alejandro González Iñárritu  isn’t known for making happy upbeat films and this one is no different but like those films, it does have something to say about the human condition albeit in a depressing way with far too many unnecessary plot threads that are are maddeningly left unresolved.  Judging from the quality of life shown from this movie, it looks very difficult for many people to live well in Barcelona.  For Uxbal (Javier Bardem), it’s especially hard since he is sole caretaker for his two small children after their mother Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) left due to her bi-polar and infidelity issues.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he learns that he has terminal prostate cancer and only has months to live.  With and undependable and absent wife and no one else to take care of his children, Uxbal is desperate to find a way out of his fate.  Money is a big issue since his profession is that of a middle man of sorts, who manages a team of African immigrants who sell knock-off purses and DVDs on the streets that he gets from two gay Chinese manufacturers who have their own impoverished immigrant workers to make the items.  Their co-dependency on each other is doomed to fail at some point as each group is desperate in different ways and their illegal enterprise is a ticking time bomb.

Uxbal has been able to fend off the police for the most part through bribes but their tendency to look the other way is in jeopardy.  Between the corrupt police-men’s greed and the African immigrants insistence to sell the goods in the open along with drugs against Uxbal’s wishes, it’s just a matter of time before it all comes to an end.  When it all does come crashing down, it starts a domino effect that drags everyone down.  With no revenue from purses, Uxbal is understandably frantic to not only help one of his men avoid deportation but also to make sure his children will be provided for after his death.  Against his better judgement he moves in with his erstwhile wife in the hope that she is as better as she claims to be and can take care of the children after he’s gone.  This being a Iñárritu film you can guess how that turns out.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s an additional subplot about Uxbal’s apparent gift for talking to the dead.  He makes some money passing on the last thoughts of the departed to their grieving families.  This added element really seemed undercooked and didn’t serve the story at all. Ultimately, it plays no part in the outcome of the movie and I’m not sure why it was even included. Uxbal as a character was already a curious mixture of loving father and as a sympathetic opportunist who earns money from using undocumented immigrants for essentially slave labor. There was no need to add conduit to the dead on top of that.  Even when he tries to help alleviate the terrible working conditions of the factory workers, it all goes horribly wrong and he ends up with another crisis.

This is a very moving film especially if you have children, since it’s a parent’s worst nightmare to have no one around to care for your children after they’re gone.  The acting and direction in this are uniformly excellent and it’s easy to see why Bardem was nominated for an Oscar for his work in this movie.  While I can understand the reasons to keep the film from having a happy ending which would have been unrealistic after over two hours of bleakness but I wouldn’t have minded a more uplifting end myself.  With the movie ending with just about every plot thread unresolved along with a depressing ending, it’s hard to recommend this film to others despite the amazing performances.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

The film’s 1080p transfer that alternates between 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios looks amazing. The amount of detail present is so good that it reveals the squalor and grittiness that Uxbal and his children live in.  The neighborhood itself becomes a character and is so all encompassing that you feel like you are trapped there with them.  Colors are vibrant the few times they are allowed to make an appearance in this desaturated film.  Black levels are pitch black and the contrast is excellent. Textures are eye-popping as are the close ups that allow you to see every detail in the actor’s faces.  Flesh tones are natural  and consistent except when intentionally made to look different.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Biutiful is a Spanish film with no English dub included, so the only option is the original lossless Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track with English subtitles.  I didn’t mind reading the subtitles but I did have a problem with this mix since it was balanced horribly.  One minute you’re straining to hear the faintest of whispers (which is a frequent occurrence in this film) and then you have to turn it down quickly once the whispering is done.  The dialogue in this movie was infuriatingly low and during several points I would have missed what was being said if not for the subtitles.  Later in a strip club, the mix showed what it could do when allowed and it sounded great but for most of the movie I was very unhappy with it.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars)

There’s not a lot of extras on this disc but at least they are all in high definition.
  • Behind Biutiful: Director’s Flip Notes – This is a glimpse behind the scenes directly from director Iñárritu who used his flip-cam to capture key moments during the production.  This was interesting and provided a human glimpse into the people involved in the film and Iñárritu himself.
  • Biutiful Crew –  A video showing various members of the production singing and fooling around.  It’s nice that they get their moment in the sun but it doesn’t add anything of value to the movie itself.
  • Interviews – A brief talk with the three main stars of the movie: Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernandez and Maricel Alvarez.  They all seem to have valued their time on the movie and the experience of working with Iñárritu.  In a humorous confession, Bardem says he learned something important from the movie but he doesn’t know what it was yet.

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

If you can handle watching two and a half hours of unrelenting depression and an emotionally draining ending, then I would recommend this film.  The performances are incredible and despite Uxbal’s many character flaws, you still end up hoping against hope that everything will work out okay.  The film is filled many small moments of a reality that feels true and honest which only adds to the viewer’s inner turmoil.  Perhaps the best way to sum up my feelings about the movie is that I’m glad that I saw it but I have no desire to ever see it again.

Biutiful is available to purchase by clicking the picture below!

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