Direction: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez
It’s grim, gritty and thoroughly engrossing. Mexican auteur Inarritu’s fourth feature marks his return (after the US-made 21 Grams and Babel) to Spanish-language filmmaking since his acclaimed debut Amores Perros (2000).
Working for the first time without his regular script collaborator Guillermo Arriaga, Biutiful unfolds almost entirely in chronological order unlike the non-linear narratives of the director’s previous films.
Inarritu continues to add his own distinctive flavour to a miserablist tale of a single dad (Bardem) whose life unravels on the mean streets of Barcelona.
Scraping a living by hustling as a middleman for the employment of illegal immigrants, the wheeler-dealer barely manages to support his two young children (Guillermo Estrella-Hanaa Bouchaib, both brilliant).
Worse still, he has to contend with his bipolar estranged wife (newcomer Alvarez, correctly edgy) as well as a terminal illness. It’s also evident that the protagonist possesses a supernatural gift that enables him to communicate with the dead.
A contemplation of the crushing force of tragedy, the film explores the suffering and humanity of damaged lives. The stark visuals (courtesy Inarritu’s longtime cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto) and the music by Gustavo Santaolalla (yes, he also did the score for Kiran Rao’s Dhobi Ghat) contribute to the palpable sense of foreboding.
A sub-plot involving a couple of shady Chinese ‘entrepreneurs’, merely impedes the dramatic momentum.
Also, the occasional visions of ghosts suspended from the ceiling are more tacky than terrifying. On the other hand, a police raid on Senegalese street vendors in the city centre is shot with breathtaking virtuosity.
Having already garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2007 for No Country for Old Men, Javier Bardem turns in another mesmerising performance, a front-runner for the Best Actor trophy this year. Book-ended by an enigmatic afterlife sequence, Biutiful consolidates Inarritu’s reputation as one of contemporary cinema’s consistently challenging filmmakers.
Rich and infamous
Direction: Charles Ferguson
Narration: Matt Damon
It’s one of the hot-button topics of our times. In this remarkable feature-length documentary, director Ferguson (No End in Sight) exposes the machinations and deceit that led to the global economic meltdown of 2008. His conclusions are as persuasive as they are dispiriting.
A prologue summarises the collapse of Iceland’s banking system. Then, via interviews with US investment bankers, financial analysts, political advisors and Wall Street speculators, Ferguson traces the devastating effect of the economic implosion on the lives of ordinary people all over the world.
What is far more chilling is that America’s money managers had been constantly warned of an impending profit bubble burst. Rather than pay heed, they continued to amass even greater wealth at the expense of the investors.
Not surprisingly, most of the men responsible for the crisis declined to be interviewed. The few who did participate like George Bush’s chief economic advisor, Glenn Hubbard, make fools of themselves.
None of the malefactors have been criminally prosecuted as yet. Instead, some of them still hold powerful positions in President Barack Obama’s administration. Others have accepted lucrative teaching tenures at Ivy League colleges across the country. It’s business as usual for the infamous financial honchos.
Besides weaving the objective perspectives of such renowned economists as Raghuram Rajan and Nouriel Roubini, director Ferguson even wonders if the $700 billion government bailout package was tantamount to legalizing financial fraud.
A tad lengthy perhaps, the impeccably researched Inside Job is a significant achievement. See it before it’s too late.