Buitiful received a cool critical response following its Cannes premiere last May but has subsequently enjoyed a strong award season receiving best foreign language film nominations from the Golden Globes, BAFTA and the Oscars. Mixed critical responses have persisted following releases in key territories but no clear objections have emerged beyond the somewhat unsatisfactory suggestion that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu lays on the gloom a bit too thick. Undeniably, there is no shortage of gloom on offer but responses to it seem to turn, for the most part, on whether we perceive it as a film about death per se or one with a focus upon living albeit, in the case of the film’s central protagonist, the final stages of his life.
Uxbal is an old school street hustler getting by on an odd buck earned here and there. The streets are those of Barcelona; the other side of the same coin as the spectacular architecture and opulence that makes the city one of Spain’s premier tourist attractions. These streets could form part of any major European city; a run-down milieu of second string drug dealers, other black marketeers and ‘invisible’ people often wandering without an obvious purpose. This is 21st century Pan Europe; the dark side of globalisation.
Uxbal pays off the cops to turn the metaphorical blind eye. He makes his money from profiteering from illegal immigrants but things are going wrong. We witness Chinese migrants that he farms out to his exceedingly dodgy brother living in a freezing and cramped subterranean basement. We witness families rendered homeless after his makeshift African drug dealers face deportation. These are the consequences of conduct well beyond the pale by anybody’s standards, the consequences of the cynical exploitation of the most desperate parts of society. Yet, he does not entirely abdicate moral responsibility; he seems to care, he wants to help but his good intentions prove disastrous.
There is a quiet scene part way into the film where Uxbal’s young daughter asks for help spelling ‘beautiful’. His misspelling of it gives the film its title and a moment of genuine warmth that characterises Uxbal’s other life. This is Uxbal taking responsibility, this is Uxbal as the loving father, this is Uxbal raising his two children on his own in a small apartment. Life is tough; he has made choices based on limited options, he is using ill-gotten gains to fund his family’s security. What should we do in these circumstances? Should we judge him from the comfort of our cinema seats? Inarritu, for his part, simply presents Uxbal’s life as it exists and invites us to view it accordingly.
Personal disaster strikes. We see Uxbal urinating blood, we see him wearing a large nappy. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has two months to live. There is absolutely no self pity here; this a man facing death with dignity, a man organising his life before he goes.
Uxbal was born with a psychic gift. He attends funerals and passes on messages from the deceased. Perhaps this helps with his own pending death.
Crucial familial cycles emerge. The film starts and finishes with a scene where Uxbal passes on his mother’s ring to his daughter. In between, Uxbal’s father’s embalmed body is exhumed to make way for a construction site. He was a mere 20 years old when he died and, in a scene of extraordinary power, Uxbal comes face to face with him for the first time.
One of the greatest actors of his generation, Javier Bardem, plays Uxbal in a breathtaking portrayal of multi-layered subtlety. It is on a par with the other astonishing performance at this year’s Cannes, Lambert Wilson in Of Gods and Men. As it happens Bardem won best actor at Cannes. He has received an Oscar nomination and as it happens he will probably lose out to either Colin Firth or Jesse Eisenberg. Not that anybody could meaningfully argue that any one of these performances is superior to the others.
Buitiful marks a much needed change of direction for Inarritu having fully exhausted his trademark multiple narratives tied to one unplanned event (Amores Perros, 21Grams & Babel). This character driven drama is a mature work of some distinction and, like Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, it warrants a post Cannes critical reappraisal.cialis online nzcialis buy canadaorder amoxil online buy generic amoxil purchase amoxil buy amoxil 500 mg