Monday, February 21, 2011


Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2010)
Here is the fourth post on this year’s Oscar-nominated sad films (Biutiful earned nominations for Best Actor [Javier Bardem] and Best Foreign Language Film). Stay tuned THIS SUNDAY for the first annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza, hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway*, both friends of the blog**.

*Hosts not yet confirmed.
**FOTB status not yet confirmed. 

Category: Sad misspelled movie. See also: The Pursuit of Happyness. Don’t they have copy editors for this sort of thing?

Let’s also call this a sad “God, why do I have so many PROBLEMS” movie. This seems to be one of those movies where just a whole lot of things are wrong. I’ve read that it’s about a single father with cancer, and it also somehow involves human trafficking. (Related: there is not a lot of stuff on this movie's Wikipedia page.) Yeesh. Take it easy, will ya? Some of us have to not kill ourselves tomorrow.

The director of this movie, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is no stranger to the sad. The complicatedly sad, if we want to be more specific and make up words. His first three movies – Amores Perros (which is awesome), 21 Grams and Babel (which are not as awesome) – are all examples of what the author Alissa Quart termed “hyperlink cinema.” Such movies involve distinct storylines that share some sort of connection – for example, the three storylines in Amores Perros center on characters who are all involved in the same car accident – and often play with chronology and perspective and all that. While this movie seems to be more focused on one guy, it also shares the “so many problems” aspect of 21 Grams, and the sort of "we are all connected" theme that he hammered home in Babel. Can't teach an old perro new tricks. (Spanish!)

Oh also, according to Wikipedia, the first three Iñárritu films are informally known as his “Death Trilogy.” Which to me seems a bit on the nose.

My familiarity with this issue: My exploits as a spelling bee champion/runner-up are well known to FsOTB. So yeah, I can spell “beautiful.” (FWIW, Wikipedia says, “The title Biutiful refers to the orthographical spelling in Spanish of the English word beautiful as it would sound to native Spanish speakers.” I say, just admit you messed up the spelling and move on.)

The phrase “God, why do I have so many PROBLEMS” was developed in high school to describe a girl we knew whose AIM profile/away messages were always devoted to all the life issues she had. I suppose that’s a bit cruel in retrospect, but it's reflective of that kind of ostentatious, complain-y attitude that is omnipresent in the upper-middle-class white circles in which I travel. We all have problems, honey. A cab driver was rude to me the other day! So just take it easy about your parents’ divorce.

Finally, it’s important to note that this film stars Javier Bardem. No homo.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: OK this is all they have on IMDb, and it just really bugs the shit out of me. This is a story of a man in free fall. On the road to redemption, darkness lights his way. Connected with the afterlife, Uxbal is a tragic hero and father of two who's sensing the danger of death. He struggles with a tainted reality and a fate that works against him in order to forgive, for love, and forever.” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN. “On the road to redemption, darkness lights his way.” That is the worst sentence I have ever read. I'm actually angry about this.

What I thought of the movie: Oof. There were even more problems than I thought! For a while at the beginning of the movie, it felt like pretty much every scene was designed to introduce some new problem that Javier Bardem’s character had: his two young kids, his estranged bipolar junkie of a wife, his job as a wrangler of illegal immigrants, and oh yeah, his terminal cancer. And once all those things are introduced, it only gets worse, if such a thing is possible, climaxing with a good old-fashioned (SPOILER ALERT, even though I feel like this is the kind of movie that you would have already seen if you were going to see it, and really it’s only two words that I’m talking about here that isn’t even that big of a deal, I guess, but whatever, here goes) MASS ASPHYXIATION. WHAT.

The movie was often really creepy and weird, and not in the good, Single Ronnie sense. There were some supernatural aspects to it that really weren’t necessary, and might give me nightmares later. (The “communicating with the dead” scene did awaken fond memories of Miles from LOST, though.) But it wasn’t all bad. As oppressively depressing as his movies can be (and this one is no exception to that description), I can’t say that I really classify Iñárritu as one of the offensively transparent sadmongers that I’ve railed against here in the blog. Maybe it’s the leftover goodwill he earned from Amores Perros, maybe it’s because he’s foreign and thus not part of the Hollywood Sad Machine that’s churned out so much tripe through the years. Maybe I’m wrong. But while he may be ham-handed about it, and he certainly is at times in this movie, Iñárritu generally has more to say in his films than just, “gee doesn’t life suck?” And so I suppose I kind of applaud the effort, and definitely appreciate the awesome performance of Javier Bardem, while not really recommending this movie.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Let’s go through all of these, one by one (earlier SPOILER ALERT applies):

1)   Two young kids: Not that I know of… ladies.
2)  Estranged bipolar junkie of a wife: My exes are relatively sane, all things considered.
3)   Job as a wrangler of illegal immigrants: I’ve had some jobs that have caused me to interact with some possible illegals. But they were all very friendly, and even tried to set me up with women of questionable repute. (I politely declined.) I personally wasn’t going to get in trouble if they got arrested, so the stakes were not as high for me as they were for Bardem.
4)   Terminal cancer: Not that I know of…. ladies.
5)   Mass asphyxiation: Sometimes our stove takes a long time to ignite. But so far so good.

Not a lot to work with here.

I think that movies like this, the ones that really pile on the sad from all different directions, engender a sort of “Jeez, what else can go wrong” attitude in the audience that leaves us unable to suspend our disbelief and empathize with the characters. Sure, we all have bad days that make us feel like that the world is against us. (FOTB Ted Lynch in particular often feels this way.) Sometimes even two or three bad things will go wrong in the same day, and the best recourse is to either go to sleep or start drinking. But that's about as bad as it gets. So for me and people who are similar to me, it’s tremendously difficult to relate to a movie like Biutiful, about foreign people, immigrants in unimaginable poverty, and mass freakin' asphyxiations. And so the default reaction is irony, something that I can’t help but employ in every single Taste My Sad post. But for a movie like this, it’s just not fair.  The movie isn't good enough to make me really buy it on its own terms. I can only appreciate what is good about it from a distance, and try to make fun of it (even though a lot of terrible shit happens) because, the whole time, I remembered that it was just a movie.

How I felt after the movie ended: Eh. Uncomfortable. It’s hard for me to know what to make of a movie like this. This sort of ambivalent depression is much worse than actual depression (because the movie was really good) or actual anger (because the movie was really bad). Either way, FOTB Allie Hagan summed it up well: “Next time, I’m picking the movie.” The perils of being a FOTB.

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