ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU The Mexican filmmaker talks about his new film Biutiful, Spain, Javier Bardem and fatherhood
‘The starting point for Biutiful was the character of Uxbal [played by Javier Bardem], who got into my head one day. I had listened to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major and that had given me an idea for a tone and a mood. Then I had this image of Uxbal visiting a doctor and I started writing sketches of him. He’s a man in free fall, trying with dignity to find redemption in the last months of his life. The question is how can he find love, forgiveness and compassion in the toughest of circumstances. ‘Barcelona was the first European city I ever visited
when I was 17 and working on a cargo ship, and I realised that Uxbal belonged to a particular part of Barcelona, the Santa Coloma district. Lots of different ethnic communities live there and the are quite separate from mainstream Spanish society. Conditions there are difficult to live in and I thought that would be a fascinating human context for Uxbal.
‘I’ve known Javier for 10 years, and we’ve been trying to work together for a long time. This was a
great role for him, and he brings this extraordinary physical presence. He’s really committed to the details of the part, and he puts up with the fact that I can be unbearable as a director, because I insist on so many takes. ‘The visual architecture of Biutiful is the most
sophisticated of all the films I have directed. Although we used real locations, I wanted to use lighting and editing to take the viewer deep into the unconscious of Uxbal. So there are surreal and hyper-realistic approaches, and alongside the social context, there are are metaphysical elements. What was interesting was blending all these contradictory styles together. ‘All my films are dedicated to members of my family, and this one is to my father. Fatherhood is such a big theme in this film: to me it’s a love story between a father Uxbal and his two young children. All the other aspects of the film are subordinate to this. I do think that the emotional weight of Biutiful has blinded some viewers to the beauty and complexity of the film. It’s full of compassion and forgiveness and I find Uxbal tragically heroic.’ (Interview by Tom Dawson) ■ Biutiful, selected release, Fri 28 Jan. See review, below.
ANIMATION/COMEDY/ADVENTURE TANGLED (PG) 100min ●●●●●
Disney’s animation wing has undergone a rebirth since Pixar head John Lasseter took the reins, and this is the third film to benefit from his direct input, following Bolt and The Princess and the Frog. Like those two, Tangled is high-quality family entertainment, jaw-droppingly well animated and funny, but it similarly lacks the easy charm and ethical clarity that has guaranteed longevity for studio’s best films. Tangled is a retelling of the Brothers
Grimm’s Rapunzel, and despite its funky title it is a relatively traditional Disney take on the story, right down to the inclusion of some show-stopping musical numbers. Rather than embellishing the narrative with self- referential commentary (a blessed relief in this post-Shrek era), directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard find new approaches to familiar characters. This Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is a winning mix of independence and hopeless naivety, so when bandit Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) crashes through her window, it’s as much her gung-ho attitude as his self-seeking determinism that gets them on the road to adventure.
The directors lose points for their lack of originality, though: every big scene is directly pulled from Disney’s back catalogue. There’s a chase sequence from Aladdin, a romantic boat scene straight out of The Little Mermaid and a finale that’s pure Beauty and the Beast. Tangled is a crowd-pleaser for sure, but not one for posterity. (Paul Gallagher) ■ General release from Fri 28 Jan.
DRAMA BIUTIFUL (15) 147min ●●●●●
A departure for Mexican writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, following a trilogy of films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) notable for their achronological, criss-crossing narratives. Save for its mysterious prologue, Biutiful is linear in its construction, and focuses on one protagonist and one location: underworld hustler Uxbal (Javier Bardem), in the ethnically diverse Barcelona suburb of Santa Coloma. Certainly Iñárritu and his co-screenwriters pour multiple misfortunes onto Uxbal’s shoulders. His ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez) suffers from bi- polar depression, while his business dealings with Senegalese drug-dealers and Chinese sweatshop labourers risk discovery by the authorities. Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he has just months to put his chaotic life in order. A modern day variation on Kurosawa’s Ikiru (Living), this melodrama is notable for the vivid handheld cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto and a series of impressively choreographed action set pieces. Yet despite the convincing physicality of Bardem’s central performance and the authenticity of the settings, the story itself feels increasingly overwrought and over-determined. Uxbal is even saddled by the script with another burden which sends Biutiful off into supernatural territory. Take away the film’s undeniable visual panache, and you’re left with an ultimately sentimental and protracted tale of male redemption. (Tom Dawson) ■ Selected release, Fri 28 Jan. See interview, above.
20 Jan–3 Feb 2011 THE LIST 41