Saturday, February 26, 2011

Biutiful (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Alejandro Inarritu ("Babel") knows how to bring out the film noir in everyday life. The Oscar nominated "Biutiful" stars the inimitable Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a small time boss dealing in counterfeit brand-names, while moonlighting as a telepathic spirit guide. Uxbal broods like a handsome Minotaur and is down on his luck. But it is not a slug from a mother-of pearl revolver that threatens to bring him down but rather the slow grinding of life.

From the start, "Biutiful" has a claustrophobia in regard to religion that rivals William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" . Uxbal goes to a viewing. Boys are lined up in coffins immaculately dressed, their faces seemingly dusted in sugar as if for a Day of the Dead celebration. Moreover, Uxbal frequently sees the dead crawl on the ceiling, but instead of echoing a Linda Blair head-turner, these effects are portrayed as a matter of course. Everything is cast in a green grey light. The room is more like a hospital closet than a viewing room. Uxbal pushes his face right up against the deceased child, as if this debonair bull is about to steal his still breath. He experiences a vision of the boy sitting next to him and he receives a high-pitched jangle of communication. Is this a message from beyond or a con-man's conjuring trick?

It is up to us to decide.

During an exam, Uxbal is diagnosed with prostate cancer. He vows to beat it and carry on his counterfeit operations which exploit Chinese workers in hazardous conditions. When he notices that one of his men is selling drugs and hawking pirated items on the wrong side of the street, he tries to intercede but his hands are tied. His diplomacy comes to nothing. And the man is brutally beaten.

Day after day Uxbal is surrounded by consumerism, underhandedness and confusion. He is alone in caring for his two kids as his separated wife struggles with bipolar mania. She is frequently manic and talks nonstop. Communication is impossible.

One day he awakes in his cluttered and water-stained room and strives to make things right. He vows to give his workers better ventilation. Arriving at the warehouse, he discovers to his horror that the workers have all been asphyxiated.

At every turn, Uxbal arrives just seconds too late to make a difference.

Even though the film is predominately naturalistic, there are some surreal touches that stand out like velveteen exclamation points and highlight Uxbal's struggle. In one scene, he goes to a disco. Uxbal is overcome with noise and grief and cannot talk. Abruptly he sees a stripper wearing a huge latex head shaped like a breast. These highly sexualized plasticine monsters seem to mock his non-sexual plight, under siege by cancer.
Uxbal's Mexico City is as much as a projection of his mind, his past and present, as it is a physical place. When dreaming of the Pyrenees, the monochrome squalor of his room confines him and when he goes to work he is surrounded by petty salesmen and sideways-smiling hucksters.

A trip to the Pyrenees becomes a snow-capped incantation, a Ratso Rizzo shangrilla of a wish that he can only hope to reach.

Telepathy becomes a means of transport---away from criminal blame, away from his dishonest sex-crazed brother and his absent father. The Pyrenees is both a mythic thread in Uxbal's earthly wake and a whisper of his last liberation.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Grotesque and shameful. Human slavery and desecration of the dead. Spouse and child abuse. Cowardice and exploitation. Tedious dialogue and contrived emotions. Pass.