Read an Excerpt
Directory of World Cinema Spain Volume 8
By Lorenzo J. Torres Hortelano
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2011 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
FILM OF THE YEAR BIUTIFUL Biutiful
Studio: Mod Producciones
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Producers: Fernando Bovaira
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenwriters: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cinematographer: Rodrigo Prieto
Art Directors: Marina Pozanco
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
Editor: Pablo González del Amo
Duration: 150 minutes
Cast: Javier Bardem
Filming Locations: Barcelona
The film starts and ends at the same point: Uxbal and his daughter Ana talk about a ring, lying in bed in a darkened room. What happens in between is a great flashback. Enjambmented to the dialogue of the boot scene, we see a dream: a snowy forest, a dead owl, and another man younger than Uxbal. Right at the end of the story we will know that this man is his father, whom Uxbal did not know because he was exiled to Mexico, where died shortly afterwards.
The story itself- the broad flashback- begins at a hospital: Uxbal, an unlucky and desperate father, separated and with two young children, undergoes a medical examination: he is diagnosed with prostate cancer that will let him live only a few more months.
To give his children a good start in life, Uxbal runs both the drug trade in his neighborhood in Barcelona, the Raval, and the trafficking of illegal immigrants, apparently at arm's length but, as the story unfolds, he will become increasingly involved in the lives of dealers, bootleg peddlers and their families, Chinese and African immigrants, and his own dysfunctional family.
In addition, Uxbal, as a spiritualist, has the ability to speak with the dead, that is, to put together two separate worlds, and to bring into contact the police with the underworld of drugs, and illegal immigrants with the foremen of the building works, assisted by his brother, who sleeps with his estranged wife, Marambra. She suffers from a bipolar disorder that prevents her from leading a normal life. Disorder, then, resounds in Uxbal's position as mediator.
Before dying, he wants to order his life by entering into in a race against time, one in which he needs to forgive the son who pees the bed; his wife (who let to return home, which fails); his brother (who always helps, but betrays him with Marambra); and himself (for his involvement in the deaths of Chinese immigrants or the deportation of the Africans). Finally, he will find peace with himself and, as well as the money he gets together in his haste, he will donate a token gift to his children that is contained in the simplicity of (protective) black stones which contain a lesson: what is worthwhile in life is beyond the imaginary level. The scene in which the spiritualist gives them to Uxbal in the first place is at the geometric centre of the film which endows it with great symbolic significance.
Biutiful is the first feature film Gonzalez Iñárritu made without Guillermo Arriaga, his usual screenwriter; significantly, the seeds of this project were planted in 2006, the year of his break with Arriaga. The director himself began writing the script and, subsequently, he was joined by the Argentines Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone. If 21 gramos/21 Grams (2003), Amores Perros/Love Dogs (2005) and Babel (2006) are examples of fragmented narratives, Biutiful's story is linear, except, as noted above, the fact that most of the film is a great flashback. As a result this should be given special consideration because therein lies, perhaps, the key to Uxbal's character: one cog in a globalized world that is not finally working.
Precisely, one of the greatest of Iñárritu's virtues is his ability to be able to combine a number of narrative and aesthetic keys in a non-nationalistic way; to provide a work that is addressed to a global audience, pointing out the contradictions of globalization without falling into demagoguery. In fact, when Iñárritu first came to Barcelona in 1981 he experienced its brutal contradiction: a global world and, simultaneously, closed nationalism. Hence, perhaps, at the same time, this feature typically, and often, becomes the target of the biggest criticisms against Iñárritu's cinema, as his work seems to fall into cultural relativism. This dialectic continues to show the flaws and complexities of the phenomenon par excellence of the twenty-first century: the already-mentioned globalization, beginning with the dependence of culture on nationalisms, which is still perceived in the global world.
The film is close to pure melodrama but, as will be discussed below in the appropriate gender essay, Biutiful specifically fits into the auteur melodrama in which the Mexican director is a master; it has reference to social cinema while being full of poetry.
Barcelona has probably never been represented in a rawer and yet dreamy way, far from the city of tourists, or Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). You do not find Gaudi's Barcelona -although it still appears beautiful, here it is rather 'biutiful' - and, above all, you do not get a Sagrada Familia 'postcard': when Uxbal stares from the window of the treatment room hospital, he gets to see it through a ghostly panorama shot in the distance, still under construction. This symbolic Barcelona temple is precisely what Uxbal seems to long for in his wanderings through the streets - a Law that will guide his decisions. And, therefore, the story of his father, who he could not know, becomes the secret key of the film, especially when he allows his daughter to say goodbye to him through a ring, and through the promise that might be enclosed within it. So, it makes sense that the film is framed in that sequence as a prologue and epilogue, with its derivative in the snow dream in which his father shows him a way out.
There is thus a spiritual evolution of the protagonist who, after a descent into hell - like the Chinese illegal immigrants who die in the basement poisoned by gas - furrowing a dirty, realist landscape - very close to the first Iñárritu's film, Love Dogs - emerges in a magical and supernatural space, represented by black butterflies emerging from the ceiling in his most desperate and reflective moments. In these - as in the stones he donates to their children -we also find the aesthetic pointed to by the word 'biutiful': not an imaginary beauty but transcendent - see, for example, the tremendous Barcelona sky streaked with black birds (used in the trailer) which is the work of the fantastic Rodrigo Prieto, director of photography for all Iñárritu's films - and Brokeback Mountain (2005), among others.
This rarefied aesthetic crystallizes in the character's name: Uxbal is a strange name, as strange as would be that morning in which Iñárritu and his sons were preparing breakfast listening to the piano concerto in G major by Maurice Ravel and which made them sad, and the very same morning that a character named Uxbal knocked the door of the director's imagination.
The film is not the best of Iñárritu, although by February 2010 it had raised over 3 million euros in Spain alone. But there is no doubt that this is, perhaps, the best Javier Bardem performance. And, for us, it is undoubtedly the best film shot on Spanish soil in 2010.
lorenzo J torres HortelanoCHAPTER 2
INTERVIEW WITH JAIME ROSALES
Jaime Rosales was born in 1970 in Barcelona. He graduated in Business at the ESADE school of economics, but his vocation was cinema. With two grants, he spent three years studying at the International School of Film and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (Cuba) and then at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney (Australia). After completing these studies, he worked as a scriptwriter for television until March 2001, when he started as a producer in Fresdeval Films.
Before his debut with the feature film Las horas del día/The Hours of the Day (2003), he made several short films with great success, but it was The Hours of the Day, which also received the FIPRESCI Award at the Cannes Film Festival, that established his reputation. In 2007 he shot his second feature, La soledad/Solitary Fragments, which unexpectedly won the Goya award for best film and best director, and selected at the Cannes Film Festival's in 'Un Certain Regard' section. His latest film, Un tiro en la cabeza/A Bullet in the Head (2008), received more mixed reviews.
It would seem, with honorable exceptions like yours, that the whole of Spanish cinema turns its back on the issues that really matter to the public. Are you aware that you are an exceptional case, another 'solitary figure' in Spanish film? To what do you believe it is due; what do you feel is the reason? When will we leave this eternal adolescence in film topics, or get beyond financial demands or seeking quick success?
I think all artists feel quite lonely in the creative process, one that contains many more uncertainties than certainties. The truth is that I do not think of cinema from a national point of view. Of course I am Spanish, I care very much about what happens in the country I was born and live in, Spain but, regarding film matters, I do not operate from a national perspective. I will not watch a movie simply because it's Spanish, French, Iranian or American. l'll watch a movie because I feel like it is going to offer something that interests me. That something that interests me is usually also very varied. In some movies I can be looking for some things, and in others, for different ones. But I never reflect from a national point of view. Not even when I conceive or make a movie. I do not think of it as a Spanish film for the Spanish public. I think of it just as a movie. A film that must address a series of interests that concerns me at a given time. I do not know what issues should be discussed and what topics should not. In fact, I do not think the topic is so important. I do not believe cinema is limited to a technology to illustrate a thesis, a theory or an ideology. I do not know what cinema is, but I do not believe it is that.
The Directory of World Cinema: Spain tries to establish a sort of canon of Spanish cinema, thinking in terms of non- Hispanic audiences. In this context, do you feel comfortable inside Spanish cinema? What are the most immediate references when you get to work?
I think I have partially answered this question in the previous response: I do not think of cinema from a national point of view. Many people think of cinema - and other things: sports, literature, politics - from a national perspective. I already said that's not my situation about that. On the other hand, I feel well integrated in my culture, the Spanish one. I like living in Spain and I like raising my daughters in Spain. The Spanish film industry has been good to me. They have allowed me to make my movies - with some difficulties - and that is much appreciated. France has also welcomed me very well and I am also grateful to the French. The difficulties are good. Sometimes I hear colleagues complain about the difficulties in film-making. Partners who make movies regularly, who really don't have many problems, complain for the sake of complaining. I do not share this victimization. I find it a privilege to make movies and I feel privileged. I feel I have more duties than rights. And I always try to meet them.
As for the references, we are back to the same topic: I do not see it from a national perspective. Besides, the references vary over time. At one point Bresson may be more important than Tarkovsky; at another it can be Cassavettes or Buñuel, who was Spanish himself. I don't know ..., Ozu was very important to me and now he barely means anything to me. Almodóvar is arguably the author who has best lead his career in the world today. In Spain I like Erice's films but it didn't even cross my mind to make a film like him. Lynch, Godard, Antonioni ..., Lars von Trier, Haneke ... There are many references, many movies.
Where did you get the idea of making Solitary Fragments? Is there any event, any comments, or an image that is at the origin of the project?
Solitary Fragments comes, on the one hand, from an emotion, and on the other, from an event. The emotion is becoming a father for the first time. I started writing Solitary Fragments a few months after the birth of my first child. It was something that changed my perception and my place in the world. It was a big change. Since then I looked at life in a different light. I am particularly impressed by the mixed feelings of seeing the strength and fragility of life. Nothing embodies this dual role in a more visible way than a baby. A baby is fragile and is strong. Actually, that's life, and that's the human being: weak and strong. On the other hand, the event prompting the making of the film was the Atocha Station's terrorist attacks of 11 March 2004. Suddenly, I felt I had to incorporate that into the movie. I had to include this event in some way. That's the reason for the attack on Solitary Fragments. At the same time I had to incorporate it in a different way from the one that the media and politicians were addressing it. In the film nobody speaks about perpetrators, or police conspiracies, or political issues. It is loss of a life. That's the real issue in a terrorist attack.
The film is full of shattered hopes, impossible encounters and, as you pointed out, broken dreams. Is it not this very same tension that is at the core of the emotion that your characters, and their visual representations, provoke?
I do not know. You start a movie with some ideas and over time everything changes. You start writing alone, then you're joined by a co-writer, and then by more and more people. This collective creative process is very rewarding, very exciting. But the authorship of the work, as a result of this process of collective creation, is being diluted. I feel it is not something so mine. All that is incorporated, and what stays in the final cut is not something that I have consciously placed to generate a specific stimulus. It is something that is there. For sure it's there, but I cannot explain very well why it is there. The images are there to be read. The uniqueness of cinema - that is not the case in literature, for example - is that what one writes in images can then be read in many different ways. You tell me that the movie is full of dashed hopes. Probably you're right. I cannot disagree with that. First, because, in my opinion, every spectator is sovereign. But I didn't make a movie about shattered hopes or broken dreams. I didn't make a movie about anything. I made a movie with images and sounds. These images and sounds carry many possible stimuli. Dashed hopes, shattered dreams ... yeah, sure. Many other things too.
That tension seems to be perceived equally in the countryside and in the city: the two areas where you place your characters. Is there in the visual work of the movie - cinematography and mise-en-scèène - a desire to bring close these two areas, despite the fact that both domains are equally 'corrupted' by a sense of extreme loneliness?
I have no desire to influence anything. I do not think I can tell anyone what is best for him. I cannot tell anyone that my politics are better than theirs, that my moral values are higher than theirs. I have my ideas; I have my values, of course, but do not try to impose them through a movie. I do not believe that I should. That would put me above others and I don't think it is appropriate to do so. I feel a lot of things. A series of characters start talking to me. They tell me their lives. They don't serve my ideas. Although they are fictional characters, they have their own ideas - or should have. Sometimes they do things I don't understand. They sometimes do things that I don't want them to do. But they are as they are, and I cannot and should not interfere in them. In addition, the actors, later, incorporate their own ideas and feelings. In that sense, and to answer your question, I do not want to bring the country closer to the city. Nor do I want to move it away. I have no clear opinion on this issue and, if I had, I would not make it explicit in the film. I'm simply a witness of my reality, the reality of my time. That's my job: to be a witness of my time. To leave evidence of my time through images and sounds of a reality that is there. I do not think that my job is to model the reality; to try to change it. Cinema as action is propaganda cinema. It's not a great cinema. There are people, colleagues, friends, who believe that cinema should be a tool for political action. It's social cinema or political cinema. It seems to me a very poor cinema. They treat the audience like a small child to be lectured. They treat them like a toddler. As if the spectators were not capable of seeing, reading, thinking.
In The Hours of the Day, your first film, the protagonist is responsible for some extremely violent murders. Is the fragility of the vital links between people that dominates in Solitary Fragments one of the keys that make possible an uncontrollable rise of violence in our cities, and our villages?
Excerpted from Directory of World Cinema Spain Volume 8 by Lorenzo J. Torres Hortelano. Copyright © 2011 Intellect Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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