Film: Biutiful (2010)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Eduard Fernández, Cheikh Ndiaye, Diaryatou Daff, Cheng Tai Shen
He Stoops, He Groans, He Falters
Uxbal, a soft-core criminal who is dying of prostate cancer, goes to visit his wife Marambra after she has run the gamut of another bout of bipolar debauchery. As She’s lying in his brother’s bed, she paraphrases a quote from La Dolce Vita: ?I want to be faithful to you. But I also want to amuse myself, like a whore.?
In La Dolce Vita, Maddalena, the character who says these words, is part and parcel of the world of the unreal, the phony, and the temporary, of all things careening toward death in the superficial modern world. Biutiful looks this theme of decadence and decay from another angle: in this film there is sickness everywhere, and the debauchery fails to ever appear glamorous. Those engaged in destructive lifestyles do so compulsively, even obsessively, deriving little or no pleasure from their vices. All is sick?the body, the sexuality, human ambitions, culture, society, the economy, relationships, and mental states.
Medical science, much as it raises hopes, provides no respite from all this human suffering. In one blissful scene Marambra excitedly tells Uxbal that she no longer needs medication because she has begun full spectrum light therapy and It’s actually making her feel normal. She sits in the light, her frantic face framed by its rays, and says ecstatically, ?Look? isn’t it wonderful??
Uxbal looks almost happy at this point. In the end this light fails as therapy, but there is the sense that it has not failed as a metaphor for life beyond death.
Uxbal is an expert on death from several vantage points. First, he is dying of cancer, and he’s also participating in a culture that has sold out to the almighty dollar with extremely unfortunate results. But the thing which links him most profoundly to death is his psychic ability. If you happen to be skeptical about the paranormal you’ll need to suspend your disbelief, because in this film his clairvoyance is very real and provides some powerful visual messages.
Uxbal, played by the inimitable Javier Bardem, has the task of coming to terms both with the modern fear of death and with the fact of humanity’s reckless trajectory toward it.
When his daughter is doing her homework she asks Uxbal how to spell ?beautiful.? Of course, as the title attests, he gives her the wrong spelling. He doesn’t know how to spell ?beautiful? because he’s never known beauty, but in his clumsy, erring way he’s stumbling toward it.
Part of the modern tragedy is a sense of being for whatever reasons parentless. Uxbal’s dad was forced to flee Franco’s Spain but ended up dying anyway, before Uxbal ever knew him. Thus the film provides a link with fascism, suggesting a root for the absurdity in which we are now living as well as the sense that fascism is still, in a manner of speaking, very much alive.
Rarely has gritty realism been so gorgeously portrayed, garish interiors and all, or with such moving and magical symbolism. And Javier Bardem’s phenomenal presence is like a jewelled crown that shows up the wretchedness of a heartless world while assuring us that love continues to exist in spite of terrible losses.
Biutiful manifests 10 of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 2) it stimulates my mind; 3) it harmoniously unites art with social action, saving me from both seclusion in an ivory tower and slavery to someone else’s political agenda; 4) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 5) it is about attainment of the true self; 6) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 7) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 8) it makes me want to be a better artist; 9) it is authentic, original, and delightful; and 10) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity (Cybiont).