BIUTIFUL (director/writer: Alejandro González Iñárritu; screenwriters: Armando Bo/Nicolás Giacobone/based on a story by Alejandro González Iñárritu; cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto; editor: Stephen Mirrione; music: Gustavo Santaolalla; cast: Javier Bardem (Uxbal), Maricel Álvarez (Marambra), Eduard Fernández (Tito), Diaryatou Daff (Igé), Cheng Tai Shen (Hai), Luo Jin (Liwei), Hanaa Bouchaib (Ana), Guillermo Estrella (Mateo); Runtime: 148; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mr. González Iñárritu/Jon Kilik/Fernando Bovaira; Roadside Attractions; 2010)

"Strikes a wrong chord."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Babel"/"21 Grams"/"Amores Perros") films this one unlike his other ones shot without a chronological order. Iñárritu cowrote Biutiful with Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone, in chronological order and with a linear storyline. It's based on a story by Iñárritu. The director parted ways with regular writer Guillermo Arriaga, after his latest films bombed. Its star Javier Bardem won the award for Best Actor at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a divorced devoted father of a boy Mateo (Guillermo Estrella) and a girl Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib). They dwell in Barcelona (in the grimy part, where tourists do not enter) and dad earns a living as a black-market middleman paying off corrupt cops and responsible for keeping a watch on illegal African street vendors and Chinese migrant workers for Chinese sweatshop exploiters Hai (Cheng Tai Shen) and his younger boyfriend (Luo Jin). Our kind-hearted exploiter crook's ex-wife Marambra (Maricel Álvarez) suffers from a bipolar disorder and is incapable of caring for the kids, so he was granted custody. Uxbal learns he has prostrate cancer, which has been detected at a late stage and is terminal--leaving him only a few months to live. After arrested by the police in a raid, Uxbal finds himself in a financial pickle. Also his brother Tito (Eduard Fernández), who paid his bail, is sleeping with Marambra, which gives him something else to ponder in his long list of woes. And, oh yeah, Uxbal can make contact with the dead. He uses this gift to contact the relatives of the recent deceased to give them encouraging messages from the other side.

When the really bad shit starts going down, things turn into a Job-like test for the vulnerable Uxbal, who must suffer for mankind's sins. Then this dreary, humorless pretentious art film really starts to get on your nerves. Despite a few stunningly beautiful shots by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto's hand-held camera (like the downtown city police raid on the illegal African street hawkers) and Bardem's winning nuanced performance, this melancholy tone poem strikes a wrong chord.

The cutesy title is derived from Ana's misspelling. It's attempt at a sympathetic liberal look at illegals during this post-globalization period might have worked for some, but I found its ideas shallow and banal. That it's filled with more goo than the usual Hollywood melodrama,  left me wondering if the talented Iñárritu can ever get on track and live up to his potential as a filmmaker.

REVIEWED ON 4/4/2011       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"