There were mostly unclear expectations as to what to expect of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful. After he split with longtime collaborate Guillermo Arriaga who wrote Inarritu’s three previous efforts: Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. After each of those films were received with diminishing returns critically, but increasing Awards attention, the pair decided to split and write and direct their own projects.
Inarritu’s newest project Biutiful departs from the pair’s established out of sequence style and tells a mostly linear narrative. The film premiered today at the Cannes Film Festival and the word so far is very positive. The sentiment seems to be that it is unlike anything Inarritu has done before, and that might be for the best.
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter put out one of the first rave reviews of the day. He says the film will definitely not have the commercial success of Babel or 21 Grams due to lack of stars, but it’s definitely destined to be a hit at the art house:
Nevertheless, and most of all, it’s a gorgeous, melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt. Some scenes are absolutely wrenching to behold. Others hit home with a punch to the solar plexus. Spain — and Barcelona to be specific — has beckoned forth the wistful poet in the Mexican-born filmmaker. His response to this summons is a film that, while about death, is teeming with life in all its tangled messiness.
Brad Brevet of Rope of Silicon gives the film an “A” grade in his review, calling the film’s star Javier Bardem a serious Best Actor contender and the rest of the mostly unknown cast is also stellar:
Bardem is extraordinary as Uxbal. The emotional range he has as an actor was tested in every scene and he absolutely never comes off as someone trying to emoteâ€¦ he just does. The same can be said for the rest of the cast as everyone involved deserves a round of applause, including the third act introduction of Ige (Diaryatou Daft), an African woman whose husband is being deported back to Senegal leaving her and her child homeless and alone. Daft lifts plenty of heavy weight in the film’s final moments and does so with an effortless smile helping the film dig its way out of the dark and into the light.
The most critical review I’ve read today comes from The Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth. He gives the film a “C” grade, although he liked that the film tried a different narrative approach than Inarritu’s previous films. He goes on to say that ultimately the story never found a taking off point and never really connected:
As for the film, IÃ±Ã¡rritu won’t be so lucky. As mentioned, he does stay away from the narrative back-and-forth — except — he opens the film with two key scenes that are revisited later in the picture effectively killing any emotional punch it may have had. When those scenes crop back up later in the picture, instead of providing the film’s emotional center (albeit far too late anyway) it plays out like another notch in story instead. “Biutiful” suffers from a problem most directors would love to have: its impeccably acted, wonderfully shot and assuredly put together. Sounds great right? Unfortunately, its also a non-starter. IÃ±Ã¡rritu never finds the central point from which he wants the audience to latch on to or from the story to start out from (something his previous three films all had). Instead the story sprawls, sprawls some more, takes a light detour here and there and then ends. While IÃ±Ã¡rritu may have given up his previous directorial tics, without a central incident what ends up on display is a director who is technically executes material that he’s not quite sure what to do with.
Finally, in a more mixed review Anthony Kaufman of The Independent Eye says that the film truly is a beauty to behold. It’s technically astounding from cinematography, to editing, to performances, to sound. However, the film suffers from a lack of depth, making it an unlikely contender for the Palme d’Or:
True to his commercial roots, IÃ±Ã¡rritu knows how to craft memorable images: the dead suspended near the ceiling, as black moths linger by, trying to escape their earthly roots; the surreal, flashing bodies and lights of a discotheque. But the sort of “biutiful” that IÃ±Ã¡rritu is constantly reaching for – something deep, profound and spiritual – is often just outside his grasp.
Overall, I would say these reviews are very good. Remember – at last year’s Cannes Film Festival Inglourious Basterds came out with mixed reviews only to become one of the most loved films of the year. Is the same fate in store for Biutiful? Only time will tell.