8 Sep 2013: Biutiful (DVD, 2010, Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Many serious critics I respect, both professional and amateur, seem to find the work of Iñárritu morose, sentimental, contrived or exploitative, and I can’t disagree; even when he breaks free of the repetitions of his previous three features (after decoupling from writer Guillermo Arriaga) he still throws in such mainstays as the doctor delivering terrible news, the stoically moping bourgeois male protagonist, the interlocking narratives with disparate characters and love stories. He does this exceedingly well, however, besting by far the mawkish machinations of someone like Paul Haggis (to whom he has often been compared) in maintaining a realistic class consciousness with his guilt-drenched aestheticism. Unlike so much of contemporary film, his handheld-heavy cinematography serves the story and the characters authentically, and through its use he makes many expertly lit and well-composed shots look accidental. And using a shaky camera at times doesn’t preclude him from more classical methods, such as the very lengthy and relatively steady tracking shot that brings the main character inside and throughout a nightclub whose set-design is bold enough to risk utmost ridicule (an exotic dancer, for example, with buttocks and head covered by large prosthetic breasts) in its otherworldly expressiveness. People are much more complicated than good or bad or wrong for each other or not – there’s an impressive range of peaks and troughs in the relationship between Uxbal, the (anti)hero and his ex-wife, each person despicable but redeemable. While the movie focuses (and thus empathizes) more with the wrongdoers than their subordinates, the central tragedy – the death of a factoryful of illegal Chinese workers – represents harsh realities about globalization that most commercial directors won’t touch. While heavy-handed – as is the bookending done by the fuzzy-dream-afterlife that also seems to excuse entirely the protagonist from continuing reflection on his deeds– the film deserves a good deal of credit for broadening the scope of reality permitted for public consumption.