Pedestrian Oscar polls have been sent. Nominees selected. Quibbling about domestic supremacy in the Best Picture category continues. Championing great “foreign” films may be a broken record, but with enough fight, maybe the status quo will change. To that end, I challenge the committee to explain how Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful failed for Best Picture inclusion where lead Javier Bardem manages to score a Best Actor nod. Due to Bardem’s crossover success, his flexibility in country assignation may catalyze breaking through this award Berlin Wall. Iñárritu axed a little with 21 Grams (2003) starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. These are both strong actors associated with mainstream Hollywood and US Indie success.
Throughout his filmography whether Babel (2006) or Nine Lives (2005), tragedy and disappointment buttress the narratives. In Biutiful, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal whose trickster tendencies lie more with operating rather than inveigling. He manages several under-the-counter enterprises in Madrid that brings in contact with minorities who are compromised by illegal statuses. Uxbal is protector and conniver which mirrors his role as father, strained ex-husband, and entrepreneur. His fidelity to family sanctions less than saintly actions. His death sentence of cancer accelerates his scheming even as he seeks to provide basic comforts for the slave laboring Asians. Reluctantly, he revives a pseudo family with his bipolar wife. Selecting manic depression as her hubris shades her character in more complexity. Her tragic moments are chemically driven unlike Uxbal who consciously manifests tragedy into view. His culpability is not straightforward either which are markings of depth and film greatness.
Uxbal possesses the 6th sense in regards to spirits. While he eases the mourners, he also collects his fee thus discounting the purity of his gift. Later on, a fellow older medium chides him indirectly scolding his practice. She blatantly states it is best that they don’t benefit monetarily. His cancer can be read as retribution for disabusing his meaningful ability.
Passing the two-hour line, Iñárritu loops the beginning and end scenes. Unification. Reincarnation evocations fit into lingering spirits. Javier commands the screen and has Uxbal only admit his mortality to a club-goer (that is until his daughter begs to know) most likely a female amusement for his brother. To reveal his impending death to a stranger makes his tragedy more real. Why would you bother telling a stranger? The emotional register will be different, and at the same time, there is no point in lying. Words don’t have to stick. It is as wasteful as dissipating exhaust, yet pollutes too.
Iñárritu’s camera movements are beautiful with gentle panning against diegetic sounds. The blues and greys exemplify European overcasts. Uxbal blends into these huescapes. Director drowns Uxbal in pathos.
I invite contrarians as to why Biutiful could not be in Best Picture.