‘Biutiful’ reactions reflect a tale of two movies

Posted by · 11:04 am · May 17th, 2010

Guy hasn’t pulled his full review of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful” together yet, though he will shortly.  Directly after this morning’s Cannes screening, he Tweeted that the film was “critically unfocused and emotionally muted,” and that “Inarittu clearly needs to kiss and make up with Arriaga.”  And judging by some of the reactions coming out of the theater, he wasn’t alone.

MSN’s James Rocchi, always a tough sell on films of the Iñárritu breed, mind you, called the film “[m]oving, yes, but I’m unsure about what it’s moving for; Bardem superb, but morally murky melodrama’s depression lacks direction,” while Variety’s Justin Chang wasn’t that far behind: “The grinding arthouse equivalent of ‘The Pursuit of Happyness,'” he called it.

Chang has one of only three full reviews I’ve come across so far.  The other two come from Sukhdev Sandhu at London’s Telegraph (a pan), and Kirk Honeycutt at The Hollywood Reporter (a rave).

Sandhu back-hands the film thusly:

[“Biutiful”] 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?

Honeycutt’s perspective:

“Biutiful” will require several viewings for the film to yield a complete portrait of its mysterious, flawed hero. Because for all the complexity of his previous films, with fractured, multiple narratives and an array of international characters, this in many ways is Inarritu’s most intricate study yet of the human condition.

Adding to the “pro” side, Jeff Wells predictably has a soft spot for the film:

Every actor is exactly right and spot-on in this film, but Javier Bardem gives a truly magnificent performance in the title role of an illegal migrant labor and street-vendor manager-facilitator. He looks right now like the most likely winner of the festival’s Best Actor award just as Biutiful itself seems well-positioned right now to take the Palme D’Or.

That last bit may include a touch of wishful thinking, since there was apparently muted applause and no one was exactly swinging from the rafters, but it does seem to have hit an emptional chord with many, and that can sometimes yield a Palme D’Or winner, I guess.  David Bourgeois at Moviline chimes in with similar kisses:

Iñárritu has thankfully shed himself of the need for hand-holding when it comes to storytelling. The film is spare, and Bardem’s performance — reminiscent of his turn as dying writer Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s 2000 film Before Night Falls — is one of the finest of his career.

Also a fan was Sasha Stone, who I was sad to see arrogantly dismissed detractors of the film with a swift, “Biutiful, like Another Year, requires either extraordinary depth or life experience to fully appreciate. With neither you will be lost.”  She later took it back but that doesn’t make it any less annoying (sorry — a pet peeve of mine).

Finally, from an objective perch, writing for Reuters, Mike Collett-White notes: “Warm applause and plenty of tears at a press screening on Monday at the Cannes film festival, where the movie is in the main competition, suggest it is one of the early favorites for awards, with Bardem in the frame for best actor.”

The point being: the jury’s still somewhat out.  I have a hunch I will lean “pro” on a film like this.  I love all of Iñárritu’s films, even if I am a bit skeptical of what he can do without former writing partner Guillermo Arriaga.  There is no current U.S. distributor for the film (reports of Focus Features being tied to it stem from inaccurate information — Focus only has international distribution).  I’ve heard “there’s a reason it doesn’t have a distributor” for close to a year now (which could mean nothing more than lacking commercial potential), but I guess we’ll all get our look farther down the line.

For now, the Croisette has spoken….kind of.

Other Tweets on “Biutiful”:

Eugene Hernandez (indieWIRE): “Ugh.”

Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood): “Biutiful elicits love/hate react f. American critics, played better foreign; I loved AGI’s immersive direction + Bardem’s perf.”

Alex Billington (FirstShowing): “Biutiful was phenomenal. I loved it, not sure if others did. Javier Bardem is amazing.”

Peter Sciretta (/Film): “Biutiful was very strong, great performance by Bardem, but isn’t up to par with Inarritu’s previous work.”

→ 12 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

12 responses so far

  • 1 5-17-2010 at 11:55 am

    MHF89s said...

    I am really looking forward to this…like one of my professors told me a good movie isn’t always liked by everyone.

  • 2 5-17-2010 at 12:51 pm

    Princess of Peace said...

    I certainly agree with that statement – a good movie doesn’t have to be liked by everyone. And I don’t have to like a film because most of the critics liked it. Case in point – Exit Through the Gift Shop. Almost every critic loved this film but I thought it was nothing with nothing.

  • 3 5-17-2010 at 12:52 pm

    red_wine said...

    The reaction is divided. It seems people think now that the biggest artistic profundity can be achieved by wrapping good performances around in contrived melodramatic misery, like Precious. Argh, not another one. Atleast this is not like babel.

    Lets see what Guy has to say.

  • 4 5-17-2010 at 1:05 pm

    Sieben said...

    Inarritu IS a divisive filmmaker, although I’m also afraid that many of the good things about his work left with Arriaga. The Burning Plain was certainly a good film and shares a lot of its strengths with their collaborations.I’m a 21 Grams fan, but I flat-out hated Babel.

    So I can’t say I’m especially excited for this – except maybe Bardem’s performance, which sounds predictably top-notch.

  • 5 5-17-2010 at 1:15 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    There is no such thing as a “good” movie. There is only what each individual likes and dislikes.

    So the quote “a good movie isn’t liked by everyone” I think is a bit silly.

    Just like food, music or anything else. It’s all about taste. Some people hate lobster, U2 and 2001: A Space Odyssey but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong does it?

    The better quote would be “movies I like are not always liked by everyone”.

  • 6 5-17-2010 at 3:24 pm

    AntonioA said...

    Brad Brevet @ RopeofSilicon posted a very positive review.

  • 7 5-17-2010 at 11:05 pm

    Rob said...

    “Also a fan was Sasha Stone, who I was sad to see arrogantly dismissed detractors of the film with a swift, “Biutiful, like Another Year, requires either extraordinary depth or life experience to fully appreciate. With neither you will be lost.” She later took it back but that doesn’t make it any less annoying (sorry — a pet peeve of mine).”

    Kris, Sasha has been doing this for years. She constantly assumes what people’s reasons are for liking movies (she claimed “Crazy Heart” only found favor within the Academy because the old constituency wanted to be sleeping with young women like Maggie Gyllenhaal), arrogantly asserts that people like her are the only ones who “get” certain films, and has warped/irrational views on film (she didn’t “buy” Vera Farmiga’s third-act plot turn/revelation in “Up in the Air” because a mother could never be capable of such betrayal. Yeah.).

    She can put together a cogent sentence, but the woman’s fucking dumb.

  • 8 5-17-2010 at 11:25 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That’s cruel and untrue, Rob. Sasha is a friend. Please don’t be so petty.

  • 9 5-18-2010 at 12:42 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Rob may have been a little mean, but he does touch on something true. Sasha pulls that snide dismissal act all the time, assuming absurd personal reasons for how someone could disagree with her, and will often keep reminding everyone that she’s a mother as if that automatically makes her opinion more valid.

    I’m sure she’s a nice person in real life, but her frequent condescension on Awards Daily put me off from her site pretty much forever.

  • 10 5-18-2010 at 10:30 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    There’s a way to say that without saying “the woman’s fucking dumb.” That is the point here.

  • 11 5-18-2010 at 11:15 am

    Jim T said...

    Stricly speaking, Sasha’s statement translates as “If you don’t have depth, life-experience etc you will not like the film. If you do, then you are able to like it but it’s not certain you will”

  • 12 5-18-2010 at 12:04 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    On that we agree.