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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Biutiful

May 29th, 2011

Biutiful - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray

Advance buzz for Biutiful was impressive and it was mentioned as a possible Awards Season player for quite some time. It stars Javier Bardem, who previously won an Oscar for No Country for Old Men. Plus it was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose three previous films have all earned at least one Oscar nomination, while Babel won one Oscar out of the seven it was nominated for. In the end, it did earn two Oscar nominations, including one for Javier Bardem, but on the other hand, its Tomatometer Score was barely above the overall positive level. The signals are rather mixed.

The Movie

Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a man with many jobs. He works with the Barcelona underground, acting as a go between for the sweatshops where illegal immigrants make knockoff products and the street-vendors who peddle the products, among other jobs. He also helps grieving relatives deal with their loss by helping newly departed souls seek closure, as he can see the spirits of the recently deceased. Most importantly, he takes care of his two kids, which he has to do by himself after his wife's mental illness made her an unfit parent. He's not exactly thriving, but he's getting by.

That changes when Uxbal goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. He barely knew his father, who fled Spain to avoid Franco's regime, while his mother died shortly afterward, so his family growing up was his older brother, Tito. He's worried about leaving his kids without a family and he has so many obligations left to deal with before he can feel closure. As he continues through his day-to-day life, the obligations just keep piling up.

Biutiful reminds me a lot of Precious, and this is both good news and bad. Firstly, both films are anchored by amazing performances by their central characters. I'm not surprised Javier Bardem earned his third Oscar nomination. On the other hand, the film is such an unrelenting drumbeat of depressing events that at some point it became too much too take. The running time added to this problem, and at nearly two and a half hours, it's at least half an hour too long. Even if you really liked the film, you would probably still admit the pacing was, "deliberate." Some of the less kind reviews have used the word, "bloated" instead. They do have a point, as there are a few too many subplots that tend to get in the way of the central narrative. Having an unreliable wife who is suffering from bi-polar disorder would be enough. Having her cheating on him with his brother seems like he's just trying to pile on the misery.

On a related note, I really think the supernatural element of the movie was a distraction. It took away from the otherwise very grounded nature of the movie. Maybe others will like the more spiritual aspect of the film and feel it adds another layer to the movie. It is a movie about a man who knows he's dying, so having a religious aspect to the movie makes sense, but I don't think this was the way to go.

I still think Biutiful is worth checking out thanks to Javier Bardem's performance, but I can't be too enthusiastic about that recommendation.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include a 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with clips from the rehearsals, audio notes from the director, etc. There's a lot of interesting tidbits here, but it also feels more personal than a lot of similar featurettes. Biutiful Crew is a short 4-minute featurette on the crew, mostly just showing them dancing while music plays in the background. Finally, there are interviews with the three main cast members, Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernandez, and Maricel Alvarez.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare directly, but there are no additional extras and it costs nearly 40% more, which is a bit much for a film like this.

The Verdict

Biutiful is certainly worth seeing, especially for Javier Bardem, but there are enough flaws that limit its replay value to a rental. If you are intent on buying I think the DVD is a better deal than the Blu-ray is.

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Filed under: Video Review, Biutiful