Let me first point out that I have never seen any of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s other films which include Babel and 21 Grams, among others. I actually wanted to see Biutiful because it looked like it might have an interesting story. Plus, the fact that it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards earlier this year made it more appealing.
I tried to go in with limited expectations, but after being nominated I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be a worthwhile endeavor. It is a well done film in most respects, but it is so sad, bleak, and depressing that I can’t imagine many people wanting to watch it more than once or twice.
Starring Javier Bardem and Maricel Álvarez, Biutiful attempts to breakdown the complicated life of a man who has been dealt bad hand of cards for his entire life. We discover early in the film that a man named Uxbal has prostate cancer, has two small children, and has a strange relationship with his ex-wife. To make a living Uxbal finds work for a local Chinese operated sweat shop that manufactures various low quality items. When Uxbal discovers that a local construction contractor desperately needs workers he is determined to get him to hire some of the Chinamen for a certain price so he can make some money.
To make matters even more complicated Uxbal possesses the ability to communicate with the recently deceased. Not only can he communicate with them, but he can also find out if they are having trouble leaving this world and if they wish to tell something to their living family members. It honestly sort of resembles the entire plot of The Sixth Sense, but strangely this subject is not developed much during the course of the film. The majority of the film focuses on Uxbal’s fight with the cancer and the fact that his ex-wife cannot keep her life straight either since she has a history of alcohol abuse.
After Uxbal is given the results of his cancer tests he discovers that he only has a couple months before the cancer takes over his body. With his children being 7 and 10 years old someone has to take care of them and he simply does not believe anyone is capable other than himself. So before he dies he is determined to find someone to take care of his children. When his health begins to deteriorate and he has major problems with the illegal immigrant workers he starts to wonder what is going to become of him. Will Uxbal be able to find someone who is willing to take care of his family and more importantly, will he be able to find some peace for himself?
Despite the fact that Biutiful is a character study I found that one of the major flaws of the film is that the minor characters do not see enough development. The other major problem I had with this film is that it is entirely too long. Running well over two hours I was really starting to wonder when it was going to end. If it had been about 20-30 minutes shorter I probably would have enjoyed the film a little more.
On the bright side, the actors give a stupendous performances in their roles and the script is well written. There are also some wonderful and thought provoking moments throughout the film that are guaranteed to make you scratch your head in wonder. This may not be a great film, but it is memorable and worth watching at least once.
As I noted above Biutiful is a rather depressing film so it’s not surprising that colors are washed out, as are most scenes. Saturation is not a problem, but flesh tones do look slightly pale due to the ascetic choices made by the director in regards to color. Grain is moderate throughout the film and does become slightly heavier during the darker scenes, but it never becomes noisy or distracting. I did not notice any DNR or EE either. Fine detail is definitely some of the best I have seen for a new release on Blu-ray. Hair, pores, clothing textures, and even building exteriors show off great amounts of detail. This may not be a picture perfect transfer, but it is virtually error free.
Biutiful comes equipped with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that is about what you would expect from a dramatic piece. Dialogue is well prioritized in the center channel and is always easy to understand. This is mainly a front heavy mix, but there are times when the sounds of Barcelona permeate to the surround channels. The musical score is also present in the fronts and surrounds without ever becoming overbearing. There is not really much happening in the LFE, but that’s understandable since this is indeed a character study. I would have liked more surround activity and some reminders that I own a massive sub-woofer, but considering this is a drama I was rather pleased with this lossless track.
The Blu-ray release of Biutiful receives little in the way of supplements. First up is a 21 minute making of feature that features the director talking about different aspects of the film. Next is a four minute rap feature amongst the crew members, which should probably be skipped. Rounding out the extras is a seven minute is a collection of interviews with the main actors involved in the film. The interviews are presented in 108oi and the other two features are in 1080p.
Biutiful is one of those films that will cause each viewer to react differently. Some will love it, some will hate it, and others like myself will find it watchable. If you enjoy depressing character studies that have hidden and deep meanings then this film is certainly for you. However, you still might want to start with a rental just to be safe.
Biutiful is a thought provoking film with excellent acting and a well written script.