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Tuesday
Jul052011

Biutiful Interrupted

It's not my habit to skip an Oscar nominee. But things happen. So it was that I missed Javier Bardem's Oscar nominated Best Actor turn in Biutiful (2010). This seems to happen to me about once a decade, so I've already used my "get out of jail free" card for the 'teens.... or the ten's... what are we calling this new decade? (In the Aughts the only nominee I missed was Tommy Lee Jones in In The Valley of Elah.) As the movie began with its somber first notes and black screen the words "Alejandro González Iñárritu" struck dread in my heart. I quickly remembered why I hadn't wept when the film had given me the slip before the nominations in January. Iñárritu's insatiable appetite for Miserabilism has been killing my mood since Amores Perros way back in 2000. I will forever be grateful that he introduced me to Gael Garcia Bernal but beyond that he hasn't done me favors.

I was no great fan of Babel and I openly hated 21 Grams. In fact the only Iñárritu I've ever enjoyed was the short film "Powder Keg" which is very typical of his oeuvre despite being a BMW commercial so maybe I can only handle his aggressive Feel Bad omnipotence in short doses?

It's not my preference to balk at a Reader Request. But this happened: as I began to watch the film, I suspected very quickly that I wasn't going to be able to handle it. A shot of Bardem's smiling face framed by wintry whites and cool blues immediately upset me; the saddest smile I've seen onscreen in many a year. Bardem is such a fine actor but more than that he has almost the perfect movie face, it's hugely memorable without being limited by its specificity: Is he handsome? Is he ugly? How can he be so imposingly monolithic in profile yet so human and fleshy head on?

I've always loved Javier Bardem but by the time his "Uxbal" was in a doctor's office getting a prostate exam and being an asshole about the needle for a blood test (is Uxbal a drug addict?) my mood was crashing. The last two funerals I've been to were both cancer related and one of them, very very recently, was for a dear friend's father who happens to be the exact same age as my own father (thankfully still with us).

I wasn't expecting the follow up scene, wherein Uxbal visited a funeral home where three little dead boys lay, one of them (ostensibly) haunting him. Nor was I expecting Uxbal to prey on the boy's family for money (something about his ability to commune with the dead -- fake or real?). By the time his sad looking son (like father like...) was having a bedwetting episode and Uxbal was pissing blood the next morning, I had to turn the damn thing off.


Note to filmmakers: never ever show a closeup of the contents of a toilet bowl. There are some things we see every day in real life that we need never see onscreen.

I looked at the DVD clock and realized I was only 20 minutes in and I had a full 128 minutes to go and opted for self preservation. I have been struggling with a particularly strong stubbornly escalating bout of depression and I didn't want to welcome more of it in. I had heard from the film's naysayers that the movie is relentless about piling on -- to the point of Job-like cruelty. And if cancer, addiction, poverty, ghosts, blood, and preying on grieving parents were just Iñárritu's opening reel gambit, it was going to be beyond my coping abilities in my present state.

I am not one of those sad and limited moviegoers who yearns for all movies to be happy -- a boyfriend of a good friend once complained about the sad movies we were dragging him, too "do you like any happy movies?" he asked in exasperation. And it's true that I do quite love a good tragedy. But I know my limit-testing buttons and Biutiful pushed nearly half of them in its first 20 minutes, including a peculiar uncommon one... toilet bowl closeups. Were I convinced that the world revolved around me, I'd suspect that Iñárritu was created in a lab just to test me. For this test, I have laid down my pencil and admitted defeat.

Have you ever fully intended to watch a movie and bailed from mood crashing?

Previous Reader Requests:
The Other Woman, The Rescuers and Beauty & The Beast

 

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Reader Comments (40)

This EXACT thing happened to me with Biutiful. It's waiting on top of my TV for about the fourth week running and I just don't know when I'll have the energy for it. :(

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHolly French

For some reason, I'm drawn to somber/depressing films and I have yet to watch one that was just too much to handle. Ironically, Babel was one of the few that I thought would be too much, but I ultimately made it through and I actually really love that film now. I had similar experiences with Requiem For a Dream, Beloved and Precious. Maybe Biutiful will be the one to change all that? I can't imagine all of that happening within the first 20 minutes of the film and then having to watch as (I assume) more horrible things happen for 2 more hours! Sheesh.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I've had both Blue Valentine and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf sitting in their Netflix envelopes for a couple of months now - I'm in the summer-long cohabitation stage of my mostly long-distance relationship, so for whatever reason I'm in no mood to watch films about crumbling relationships, no matter how brilliant the films may be.

But *gems* such as Hannibal and Heartburn? Received, watched, and sent back in the space of a day. As I'm sure will be the case with today's delivery - Alien Resurrection.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNate B.

I actually bailed on Biutiful as I was walking through the doors of the theatre, all the reviews I had read finally changing my mind. So, hey, you got further than I did.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterwade

I haven't seen Biutiful yet either out of lack of interest. Sorry, Julia.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathon

Oh boy, you haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the bad stuff yet. It gets pretty crazy, but I didn't find it as affecting as Amores Perros.
But yeah, this Iñárritu loves to work his audience. Its weird how much of a fan of his I am considering I don't really like 21 Grams, actively disliked Babel, and wasn't huge on Biutiful. Amores Perros really got me I guess, and I like that there are filmmakers like him making challenging, strange films.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex BBats

I didn't like the miserable aspects of Babel either, so I can commiserate. It's not too late to watch Just Go with It instead! I am sure that will be a laugh. (winky face)

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkin

I'm so with you regarding toilet bowls. I take it like a personal offense that the filmmakers choose to show them. It's such an easy attention grabber, it usually tells you how lazy the director is trying to show you how "uncompromised and serious" their vision is.

I loved Amores Perros like everybody else. I even liked 21 grams but started hating Iñárritu with Babel. What is the purpose of so much pain and misery? Yes, life is full of shit, but it also contains joy and humor. In the end Iñárritu is cheating on us, not telling the whole story, only the sad parts. When I heard about Babel, being shot in my own country, I had hope. But the outcome seems to be that life is torture and death a liberation. Not even Bardem, who I worship, can make me see this movie. I'm sorry, Javier (and congrats for baby Leo).

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

I did sit through the whole thing, but Garden State is a prime example of "mood crash" syndrome. Which I think partially accounts for my extreme hatred of the movie. (The fact that it's terrible accounts for the rest of my extreme hatred of the movie).

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertheoncominghope

I've never seen Precious. Everyone tells me it's a great film, but the rape and sexual abuse scenes are said to be pretty horrorific, and since I'm sensitive to that, I've avoided the film for those reasons.

I've also only ever seen Requiem for a Dream once as well. It's just so bleak and depressing, despite being an excellently made and acted film. I have one friend that cried and was upset for days afterward, after having seen it.

Oh btw, I share your distaste of toilet bowl scenes. I even look away when there are toilet bowl cleaner commercials on tv! I mean, really, there's some stuff we just don't need to see on the screen (poo and poo stains being some of them).

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBlinking Cursor

I don't like this movie. But Bardem's performance is so beautiful... Complicated, difficult, full of humanity. Things get worse; Bardem rocks rocks rocks.

But you see, the point is not the movie being a tragedy. The problem is that AGI overstates this tragedy. But Bardem plays it down, keeps living his life, making the best he can to live the time he still have.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

LOVE THE NEW BANNER

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

cal -- i did get that sense from 20 minutes yes. Bardem knows that his face and presence do a ton of work on their own. And I loved the scene at dinner with his kids and the shifting moods as he played with them and then punished them. But i knew i just couldn't take it.

but Bardem... i could already sense the greatness. maybe i'll try again at some point but this summer it's not for me.

July 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

You didn't miss much. "Biutiful" is misery for misery's sake. I hated "21 Grams," I hated "Babel," and I hated this -- though the actress who plays is estranged wife is quite a jolting force in the film.

I remember turning off "Thirteen" about forty minutes in when I rented it years ago, but that was more because so many things about it rang so false for me. "Garden State" is one that had me reaching for the eject button with the quick; I doubt I even got through a half-hour of it.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H

seisgrados & blinking cursor -- i'm so glad i'm not alone with the toilet bowl thing, lol.

July 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I was all primed to tell you to grow up or -- less charitably -- to grow a pair, but I see your point, Nathaniel. If you're in the middle of a personal crisis at the moment, Biutiful is not the film for you.

Biutiful is the only film in recent memory to leave me wrecked. During the credits, I stayed in my seat in the mostly empty theatre and sobbed. But unlike a lot of Inarritu's other films, this one isn't wholly dire and melodramatic. It's not a dirge; it's a meditation on how difficult and tragic and beautiful life can be. In the midst of all the tragedy -- yes, Uxbal has terminal cancer and doesn't have the money to afford treatment -- Biutiful also has a great deal of humor and mysticism. For the first time, it felt like Inarritu had real affection toward his characters. He wasn't just putting them through hell for the viewer's amusement.

Having survived a good deal of life's little disasters, I felt a connection to what this film had to say about addiction (Uxbal's estranged wife is alcoholic and likely bipolar) and loss and grief. It doesn't sugar coat it, but it doesn't trivialize it through melodrama, either.

The film managed to hit the soft, gooey center of my soul.

I wish you the best in overcoming whatever slings and arrows life is hurling toward you, Nathaniel. When it's all in the past and you feel comfortable in yourself, I recommend revisiting Biutiful. I can't guarantee it will work for you the way it did for me, but it's a damn fine film and is utterly removed from the miserabilism of Inarritu's other films.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

I don't think anyone could accuse a von Trier acolyte of not being able to handle 'depressing' movies. But Inarritu is something else. His films aren't 'depressing' - they're masochistic and pornographic.

Surely no one should feel bad about skipping Beautiful. You've certainly made sure I don't.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I wished I'd bailed on 21 Grams. I've never had an experience in a theater like that before. Just this numbness from the entire audience, where you could just sense that everyone wished they were somewhere, ANYWHERE else. I hated it so much that I had to force myself to see Babel once it was nominated for Best Picture. For whatever reason, I found myself deeply moved by that film. I think it has a lot to do with the music used throughout, particularly Ryuichi Sakamoto's "Bibo no Aozora" used for the ending scenes. I can only assume the academy thought that was an original piece when the movie inexplicably won Best Score that year...

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVal

I had the same experience. I was planning on watching Biutiful through Netflix, as it was the one Oscar movie I hadn't seen, and I figured that Bardem's performance would get me through.

I kept it on a little longer than you did, but once the crazy bipolar mother came along, I knew I had to go. It was probably the only movie I've never felt bad about turning off. Usually I will sit through most movies, because I try not to watch movies I know I'll hate, but this one felt like homework.

So reading your post made me feel better knowing that I am not the only one who had a problem with this particular film.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJL

I actually sat through the entire thing, but it left me a wreck for about a week. There's something about Javier Bardem that could make me watch anything. He has such a magnetic screen presence. But I completely understand what you mean about AGI's love for the miserable, and there were some times in my life where I know I definitely would not have been able to cope with Biutiful.

I actually have this thing where I can't walk out of a movie unless it's horribly made or an insult to my intelligence. If it's well-made, I'll sit through it, no matter how depressing. I would definitely put Biutiful up on my most depressing movie experiences though, right up there with Revolutionary Road and my double feature of Blue Valentine and Rabbit Hole.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

I'm so with you on this. The kind of movie that would take me as far as possible from it is the one with a character with some kind of disease (=usually cancer). It can be an inspirational story with an attempt at an uplifting mood (50/50) that screams fake from miles away or this other one, the one rejoicing in the misery of the disease, landing most of times on the sentimental porn area at some point or another. Either way, even though I can appreciate what they want to do (or not) it's just a way to romanticize a disease while nobody would romanticize diarrea, hemorrhoids or I don't know, impetigo to name some. And besides, in the specific case of Iñárritu, he could use some variety, I'd go to see a sequel to Easy A directed by him., or maybe not, it could become Really Hard C in his hands.

And anyway, it's not that I need happy movies all the time either, but at some point (age!) you realize life is too short to spend it in things you know you won't enjoy and that'll provoke on you a hard to shake off state that wasn't real to begin with.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I commonly pronounce Iñárritu as "Irri-tate-u." It's absurdly apt.

I also seldom miss an Oscar-nominated performance (Invictus, The Changeling, and In the Valley of Elah are the only three from the past ten years I've skipped, and that is mostly due to Eastwood-Haggis allergies), but Biutiful remains unwatched. I have a strong stomach for such miserablism, but--judging by reactions (whether positive or negative) from critics and the people in my life--I just don't know what I could possibly learn or experience from this film. No thank you.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNick McC.

Ah, I also couldn't sit through the entire thing but I did sit through a fair portion of it. Bardem is amazing, though. I don't know how it ends but the wintry scenes in the beginning gave me an inkling. I've been able to get through Inarritu's other films just fine, too. Mostly liked or loved them. But maybe it was Bardem, whose presence is so compelling and sympathetic, that made me stop on this one. I've seen other films that devastated me before -- Umberto D and an old Japanese classic film whose name escapes me now but which was so sad I was depressed for days. Those left me sobbing. The most recent film to affect me nearly that much (that I could actually sit through) was Rabbit Hole. I started crying about 10 minutes into it and continued up to the end. Still, I couldn't watch all of Biutiful, which is so relentlessly devastating, especially because there were little moments of beauty dispersed within an openly miserable framework which I suspect is too realistic to deal with for most of us. This is what life is like for more of the world than we can bring outselves to imagine.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersheila kind

Thank you for not making me feel bad on skipping this film. I've watched every acting nominee from the past decade - btw, hate to tell you but Tommy Lee Jones is definitely worth checking out - but was using the Teens excuse as well. 21 Grams was ok but man, Babel made me want to scream. I despise that film, and refuse to see more films from this guy. Glad Bardem was rewarded for what I hear was great work, but life is too short to sit through some films... and Inarritu's films, atleast for the moment, are on that list.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I bailed on that movie The Return the first time I tried to watch it. It was late, it was Russian and it was a bit bland visually and philosophically. After seeing it all the way through, I'd ultimately say: B+. The performances were all good, at least.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Saw this in theaters back in January, and my mind started wandering pretty quickly. Bardem and Maricel Alvarez are both wonderful (and both get personal noms from me in Actor and S. Actress), and its a shame that the movie around them isn't anywhere close to being on the same levels. It makes the movie really hard to recommend, because even though there's two really great performances here, you have to get through, well, everything else in order to experience them.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjbaker475

It was incredibly depressing. Then it sucked me in and I even watched the making of extra, also very depressing. I even cried. I rarely cry from movies. I totally understand. It's not like I pass up all dramas but I once asked someone "How can you watch so many depressing movies when life is depressing?" and he said "My life isn't depressing". I'm a pessimist. lol.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary

God, I hope the contents of that toilet bowl was just blood or vomit. After the horrendous "21 Grams," you have not only the right but the DUTY to bail on Inarritu if he's being a manipulative sad-monster. Unfortunately, Netflix Instant makes it far too easy to bail on a larger and larger percentage of movies and tv shows, so I'm trying to call a moratorium on personal bailing. Or at least have a good reason to bail. Inarritu's robotic pessimism? Good reason. Lucy Ricardo and Vivian Vance getting themselves into an excruciatingly embarrassing sitcom situation. Bad reason.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

Nat what struck me about your post was that you are suffering from depression,i had it for 3 months last year,it was hell,i was on tablets and my b/f stuck by me when i was in full on frances mode,chin up and keep smiling it will get better,big kiss!

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMARK

Re "Precious": despite the subject matter and a few intense scenes, it's not an absolute downer. In fact, I was surprised to find myself laughing in several places. The title character is externally a cipher but internally a comic fantasist, and the director, writer and actress (Sidibe) do a great job of keeping the movie from becoming oppression porn.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOwen Walter

I'm thrilled to find so many fellow Inarritu haters here. I had no idea we were so plentiful. For me, I loved Amores Perros, 21 Grams made me itch and Babel? I flat out hated it so much that I avoid going to the movie theater where I saw it. I'm done with his films, until he stops confusing Miserable with Important.

The most shattering movie I think I've ever seen is Lilya 4ever but I still found it beautiful and left the theater feeling intoxicated, the way good movies make me feel.

Nat, I hope you feel better.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAR

"Biutiful" is a great film. You should have manned up and finished it.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterXO

I'm mexican. I respect film industry from my country, but I gonna say this:

Biutiful is one of the worst films I saw in my entire life (Not kidding). Without Bardem's compelling performance, I say the film deserves a "F". Like you said Nathaniel, it's porno-miserabilism in a potential scale.

The best part of the film, beside Bardem's performance, it's a cheap film ifor these times. You can see eight or nine films in just one... The worst part, all these stories haven't a real conexion.

I strongly believe the AMPAS and other associations nominate this film just for the famous names because this barfling Oscar nomination for best foreign language film... UGH.

For appreciate Bardem's performance, I need Four times.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Also Nathaniel, you forget a esque-Brokeback Mountain love sequence between the chinese men. Really awkard

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Nat, even though I was one of those who voted for you to watch "Biutiful," I can't blame you for bailing out. I barely sat through it at the cinema. While Bardem acted quite well, the plot was a slog...one misfortune after another. And it got kind of predictable, too...once I saw the propane heaters, I just knew that carbon monoxide poisoning was going to enter into it.

I'm interested to see all the dislike out there for "Babel." However, on thinking it over, I realize that the Japanese aspect of the story was the only one which interested me. The US couple in Morocco got really annoying really fast, and the maid and the kids in the desert dragged on and on and on.

You'd probably have better luck watching "In the Valley of Elah," even if Tommy Lee Jones did get a bit too "Murder, He Said" at times.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

If it were not for the promise of the happy ending I knew was coming, I would have turned off Slumdog Millionaire after the first few scenes. One of the most depressing films I've ever seen, until the last 15 minutes, when it becomes a romantic comedy. God that movie is soooo overrated.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

But I can dig a depressing tragedy. The War Zone, Atonement, Precious - these are all depressingly awesome.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I liked Amores Perros just fine and don't mind tragic sad films if they are honest. but this filim was a ridiculous mess. just awful. i envy you for bailling.. i watched the whole thing in the theater.

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommentersethGassfan

OMG he is so nasty..I think my dog has a bigger cock that this guy…She is hot..and faking!!!

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterfree porn movies

I know this is blasphemous, but I couldn't sit through Dancer in the Dark. Seriously, I had to turn it off it upset me so much. I hate it when the director blatantly goes out to victimize a character, and I felt like Von Trier did that with Bjork. It was uncomfortable to sit through and I felt like I was watching a person's life literally crumble before my eyes. It was a strange, intrusive, ugly, helpless feeling. Ugh, and I've heard it is such a great movie, but I've just never been able to go back to it.

August 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAaron
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