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?