Monday, January 31, 2011

"Biutiful" is the Spanish Inception; note also the use of variable aspect ratio (and issue for theaters in showing it)

I just saw Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful” (OK, “Beautiful”) at the AMC Shirlington on a full-sized curved wide screen, which is necessary. As the movie opens, we see two raised hands held together on a full Cinemascope screen, the male wrist not particularly hairy and in fact aged and decaying. A Man and a Woman talk, and then we’re in an endless forest, corn-snowcovered, where the aging man meets a younger Hispanic or Asian looking man who could be an angel. If the younger man is the Father, it is the perfect paradox. This movie is indeed the Spanish (and Mexican, Chinese and French) “Inception”.

Then we switch to standard aspect (actually it’s more like 2.0:1, still wide), and Uxbal (Javier Bardem, who really should win Best Actor for this) is getting a hard time from a nurse as to whether he fasted before his blood test. He insists on sticking the needle with vacutainer in himself. That tells us something. Pretty soon the doctor, paid by the government, is telling him he has two months.

My own father died New Years Day, 1986 of prostate cancer, at 82, and was ill only four weeks. He coughed up blood, with tuberculosis reactivated by the metastasis, and then developed seizures. But in the movie Uxbal, who looks about 40, seems all to vigorous for a man with less than two months.
The long middle part of the movie (which runs 2-1/2 hours) tells us his life in modern day Barcelona, which looks much shabbier than I could imagine. He is a bit of a mobster, arranging semi-slave labor from China, but concerned about how his family will fare when he’s gone.  You think of him as a good man, relative to his world.  Pretty soon, his cost cutting leads to a horrific tragedy, where most of the workers, crowded together in a “dorm”, die of carbon monoxide. And he’s being told by this woman that you have to settle your karma before you go.

That gives us a pretty good clue as to Innaritu’s premise. The afterlife – in Cinemascope – is a continuation of the current life, until we settle. There are these little distortions of reality that Innaritu teases us with. There’s a premonition (in regular aspect) in a disco scene with a visual concept (from the heterosexual world) that makes gay disco (like Cobalt, Town DC, and Saloon [both Minneapolis and KCMO) seem tame.  On the web, it would certainly generate traffic.  I guess Barcelona, at least from the sea, can serve as what Clive Barker would call “The City of the Unbeheld” or the “First Dominion”; Innaritu offers us a kind of Reconciliation. (Maybe this director is thinking about taking on “Imajica”.)  Once you settle up, you may find your planet in your parallel Universe a rather uniform, featureless place.  You may stand alone.

There’s another subplot (in the real world first) where Uxbal offers an immigrant Ige (Diaryatou Daff) his place to live “because she is homeless and has a baby” which she carts around like a papoose.  Is that expected of consumers of caregiving services? But then we get it; Ige is supposed to take care of him until he passes, as if he had to admit he will need to be babied himself. His actions don’t make that look likely.

The film uses the slow movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto, with its slow waltz rhythm, to great effect, especially in the end credits (which are massive).  I suppose it could have used Timo Andres’s “The Night Jaunt” to the same purpose. After the Ravel there follows a curious chamber piece by Gustavo Santaolalla (Argentina) in a curious style combining impressionism with polytonality, fully worthy of concert performance on its own.  But by comparison, Ravel sounds almost postromantic.

The film will make us ponder the moral dimensions of a society’s dependence on essentially slave labor underground, doing the dirty jobs we don’t want and can’t accept the regimentation (or exploitation) to do for ourselves. It’s enough to invoke Marxism, even Maoism.  Another curious side plot concerns the gay relationship between the two Chinese men running the shop.

This is a huge film, which makes us ponder what “independent film” means now.  It has to have cost around $50 million or so.  It seems even more ambitious than "Babel"  and "21 Grams" (which had been in English) or "Amores Perros".  The distributors are LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions, and Focus Features is listed as a producing company.  I don’t know who will handle the DVD.  

Many theaters show wide screen by vertical cropping, which could not work on this film. The two older AMC Theaters in Arlington VA (and the Landmark properties in DC and MD) do show wide screen films “properly” in all auditoriums and can present this film correctly.

The official site for the film is here

LoveFilm has a video of interviews with Bardem and Inarritu.

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