Biutiful: a noble five star movie

Odd to say, maybe, but this was not the festival of gloom it might seem. It’s a story of nobility and its effect is almost uplifting.

This epic (and it is a tad too long) has some of the mythic quality of a Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), the hunt for redemption of MR73 (2007), the pervasive criminality of Gomorrah (2008), the muscular doggedness of 22 Bullets (2010).

We meet Uxbal as he communes with three dead boys and faces his own terminal diagnosis. He’s tough: a few rungs up from the bottom in the street-trading world. But it’s a topsy-turvy toughness: he can’t stand a nurse drawing his blood so he draws it for her. In effect he’s a lone father, and it’s a bumpy ride. He can certainly multi-task though.

As in Gomorrah, cash is king in his world. It flows through his hands so quickly and in so many different directions. He shuffles the notes out to buy faulty gas fires, bent policemen, crock handbags, peace from and for his estranged wife; to pay Chinese middlemen, Senegalese traders. Most importantly he hands over money to a sort of Mother Africa figure.

As each episode unfolds, we hear and see echoes of previous events, but this is never clunky. Nothing is in this mighty piece. Well, nothing except one crucial piece of improbable melodrama involving those gas heaters. I fear, we could see it coming from the off.

But the characters all seem pitch-perfect, and what’s better the moral exchanges seem as real as the financial ones. The point being that any sense that these people are petty is stripped away. They are desperate for small things, and their backdrop is squalid. The movie doesn’t tell us  The misery isn’t sentimentalised, and we meet so much pettiness of spirit that we know that where we also see grandness of spirit, each is as real as it ought to be. Uxbal is not figured a triumphantly good man, but he’s built on a very big scale.

Uxbal is one of the noblest figures I’ve ever seen on screen: he is battling for everyone who swim into his world and it’s as though he is condemned to love far more people than most of us bother too.

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Publication date

16 March 2011


On movies