Cannes Critical Consensus: ‘Biutiful’


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It’s not a lot of fun.

On that, the critics agree.

As for the overall quality of “Biutiful,” the Cannes Film Festival competition drama from filmmaker Alejandro González Iñarritu (“Babel,” “Amores Perros”), reviewers were all over the map. The very choices Iñarritu made that impressed some critics were the same things that aggravated just as many.

Here’s a roundup of how the film, about a troubled father named Uxbal (Javier Bardem), played in its Monday premiere at the French festival:


Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: “Actually, it is too depressing, but that’s not the fundamental problem with it. The problem is that none of the characters are remotely developed, so there’s not much actual drama to Uxbal’s rapidly unraveling life. What there is is a mood — that Iñárritu vibe of grungy kitchens and messy bedrooms and squalid lower-class hell, of degradation so pronounced that it strips the characters down to their ‘essential selves,’ so that they’re nothing but hunger and heart and grace.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “Marked by a powerful performance from Javier Bardem and a steady accretion of harrowing details, ‘Biutiful’ represents something of a departure for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, even as it confirms the pervasive bleakness of his worldview. Less invested in themes of fate and convergence than his previous work, this gritty, slow-burning melodrama nonetheless offers a very long descent into a private purgatory, and its scant emotional rewards can’t shake off the sense of a prodigiously gifted filmmaker stuck in a grim rut.”

Kirk Honeycutt, the Hollywood Reporter: “Thank goodness for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Were it not for the Mexican filmmaker’s ‘Biutiful,’ a lyrical gem that made a most welcome appearance early Monday morning in the Palais, this critical assessment of the Competition for the 63rd Festival de Cannes would be filled only with head-scratching. Because until ‘Biutiful’ showed up, the Competition appeared to be a rush to the bottom.”

Anthony Kaufman, the Independent Eye: “...despite all the jittery cinematography, Bardem’s Uxbal isn’t as compelling as he needs to be. Though the actor is as burly and entrancing to gaze upon as ever, with his immense eyes and combination of brutish intensity and gentle sensitivity, the character remains vague and pretty much miserable the entire time. He has every right to be, given all of his circumstances, but the unending moroseness of the character and the film begins to outlast its welcome--and when the story reaches its gentle final epiphany, it’s all too forecasted.”

Jenny Barchfield, the Associated Press: “Bardem delivers a remarkable performance as Uxbal — a man plagued by death. An orphan from early childhood, he earns extra cash by visiting funeral homes and communicating with the recent dead. As if that didn’t suffice, he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and finds himself obliquely responsible for a terrible tragedy plucked from the newspaper headlines. It’s a devastating movie but manages to be oddly life-affirming.”

Sukhdev Sandhu, Telegraph: “His latest work is another laborious stretch of designer depression, a remorseless headache that begins with a mysterious chap telling a ponytailed Javier Bardem: ‘When owls die they spit hairballs out of their beaks.’ Does that sound profound? Or does it reek of cod-spiritual phooey?”


Sasha Stone, Awards Daily: “This isn’t a film that will set the crowds here at Cannes on fire. But I feel it has lasting value beyond the flash in the pan sensibilities that do well in this short, intense run of films.
As the film comes to a haunting, gentle close, it becomes clear that life isn’t something you can do alone; you have to be willing to find trustworthy people, and have faith that they won’t let you down. And every so often, they come through.”

Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily: “Fans of his debut ‘Amores Perros’ took it as a good sign that Alejandro González Iñarritu was returning to Spanish-language drama after his US-made ’21 Grams’ and the multilingual, multi-national ‘Babel.’ Alas, Barcelona-set ‘Biutiful’ -- named after a child’s spelling error --outdoes Babel for overbearing portentousness, and this high-grit, yet supernaturally-tinged, story of a modern martyrdom is a leaden, overextended affair that could use some cutting to recoup a glimmer of commercial potential.”

Liam Lacey, the Globe and Mail: “Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ‘Biutiful,’ the Mexican director’s first project after his much-publicized breakup with former screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga after their Oscar-nominated ‘Babel,’ is one large dose of sorrow. That’s good news (in some sense) for fans who enjoyed ‘Amores Perros,’ ‘21 Grams’ and ‘Babel.’ They’ll find that ‘Biutiful’ delivers more of the same: tragedy, grief and a story about the hold of the dead upon the living. Though less caught up in the time-twisting narratives of those previous films, ‘Biutiful’ offers mysterious fragments of information that don’t entirely make sense until the film’s ending.”

--John Horn

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