A delayed reflection on Biutiful

I saw the movie Biutiful several weeks ago, and before seeing it I had intended to write a review of it. But the movie was too heavy for me to engage with it immediately afterwards. It left me shaking, an indication of it’s power. One expects grittiness and confronting images from the films of Alejandro González Iñárritu, but this was too much for me. Afterwards I spent days trying to shake some of the more disturbing images from my mind. At night when my thoughts relaxed, the images crept back in and kept me awake.

I went to Barcelona in 2008, to Barra Gotica, the Gothic Quarter. This is the tourist area of Barcelona, and while young men may try to sell you beer or something stronger in back alleyways, there is little obvious sadness or suffering or pain in this bouyant, active area of the city.

The Barcelona of Biutiful is another city altogether, a city where illegal sellers of imitation goods on the street live in tiny cramped apartments. It is a city of poverty, vicious cycles and exploitation. Only in long shots where the Temple de la Sagrada Família can be seen rising above the suburbs, or in the images of the beach, can the Barcelona that I experienced be glimpsed at all.

Javier Bardem plays the main character in Biutiful, Uxbal, and brings his usual gruff charisma to the screen. But here his character is also pained, dying, angry, afraid. When he loves, it is bittersweet.

The most disturbing scene involves the Chinese workers who are paid a pittance to produce those imitation goods that Uxbal’s African workers then sell on the streets. The movie is powerful and well made in a gritty, awful sense – there is nothing soft about the way the cinematography portrays the city and the lives of people in it.

I can’t say much more, because I don’t wish to re-engage more closely with my memories of the film. I acknowledge this movie’s strength and Iñárritu’s ability to capture humanity so confrontingly, but for me, it was too much.

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