The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Misery brought to a new level

with 12 comments

I spent my whole Saturday lying on the couch feeling miserable and sorry for myself. You could argue it was “just a cold”, but it was MY cold and that makes a hell of a difference. My whining was entirely justified.

There are two strategies for film watching under those circumstances. Either you go for something light hearted that will make you laugh and forget about whatever bothered you. Or you’ll fight the misery with more of the same. Evil shall with evil be expelled so to say. Watching other people struggle can bring a healthy perspective on the level of your own suffering.

This time I went for the misery, at least initially. First I endured one and a half hour buried alive in a coffin in Buried. It kept me captured but wasn’t exactly uplifting. But that was just a warm-up, because my next movie was Biutiful, where I joined Uxbal for a 2,5 hour long stroll, or perhaps I should rather say “descent to hell” in the not-safe-for-tourists part of Barcelona. If I needed a bit of perspective on my own misery I certainly got it, more than I had asked for.

There’s really no end to the misfortune of Uxbal. At the start of the movie he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer with only a few months to live. He’s got two young children to support, he’s struggling to make a living on criminal or shady activities; the mother of his children is mentally ill and unable to take care of the children. And that’s where it starts from. The road goes steeply down, down, down as he’s approaching death and the arrangements he’s trying to make don’t turn out the way he’d hoped for. It’s going so deep down that it approaches the classical Monty Python sketch. I’m sure you I’m sure you remember it, but here’s a quote anyway for your enjoyment:

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:

There were a hundred and fifty of us living in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:

Cardboard box?

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:

Aye.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:

You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t’ mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi’ his belt.

SECOND YORKSHIREMAN:

Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at six o’clock in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of ‘ot gravel, work twenty hour day at mill for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would thrash us to sleep with a broken bottle, if we were lucky!

THIRD YORKSHIREMAN:

Well, of course, we had it tough. We used to ‘ave to get up out of shoebox at twelve o’clock at night and lick road clean wit’ tongue. We had two bits of cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at mill for sixpence every four years, and when we got home our Dad would slice us in two wit’ bread knife.

FOURTH YORKSHIREMAN:

Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o’clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

Magnificent Bardem
It would be easy to mock Biutiful, to laugh at it, or criticize it for being so long, fragmented and overly miserable. I could do that too, if I chose to watch it with those glasses. But I don’t. Because laughable or not, I actually liked this movie. I liked it a lot.

Especially I liked Javier Bardem, who rightfully got a lot of praise and an Oscar nomination for best acting that year. Eventually the prize went to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech, but it must have been a close call. He carries the film on his shoulders. He even carries some mumbo jumbo new age stuff about fortune tellers and people who speak to the dead. That’s quite an achievement.

In the end I didn’t laugh at Biutiful. I joined it. I lived it.

To be honest, my initial reaction after watching it was depression. I kept feeling sorry for myself, but now I had someone else to feel sorry for as well.

But now, a few days later, it’s starting to change as it has matured a little in my memory. It’s not a dark movie. At the core I think it’s hopeful and full of love for life. It’s spiritual, in a non-confessional way.

And besides I’ve finally started to recover from my cold.

Biutiful (Alejandro González Iñárritu, MX/ES 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

November 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Biutiful

12 Responses

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  1. I love Javier Bardem’s performance and some of the technical work but man, I had a hard time watching this film. I found the pacing to be very sluggish and one of the quibbles I had with Innaritu as a filmmaker is that he is always trying to put misery upon misery and I was waiting for some humor to appear.

    I think there’s a lot of great stuff in it but there’s stuff that I didn’t like about it. I really think that if Innaritu wants to keep making the films that he wants to do. He needs to simplify his ideas and not drag it out for so long.

    Steven Flores

    November 17, 2011 at 1:42 am

    • I haven’t yet seen any love for this movie from any other film blogger, so I suspect I’m pretty much alone in my appreciation for it. I can definitely see why you can criticize it. And it did feel very long. It could easily have lost 25 minutes and it would have been a gain. But I still can’t deny that I connected to it. Perhaps it’s a personal thing. My father got ill in cancer in his 50s and died after two years of suffering. Ten years later I’m still processing this and I’m strangely drawn to watch movies where there’s a father who dies in cancer. It’s like a theme in my movie watching. It’s not a concious decision (“now I want to watch movies where they die in cancer”). But I end up watching them. I’ve started to notice the pattern.

      Jessica

      November 17, 2011 at 7:13 am

  2. I appreciated this movie just as much as you, believe it or not 😉

    http://www.fiffisfilmtajm.se/biutiful/

    Fiffi

    November 17, 2011 at 8:31 am

    • High five! Fiffi & Jessica are on the same side of the fence once again! I totally loved your review. I hope some English speaking readers will check it out. Some of your cleverness with the words will probably get lost through Google translation, but it’s still totally worth a read. Cheers!

      Jessica

      November 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

  3. […] har också skrivit om filmen, liksom Filmmedia, Fripps filmrevyer, The Velvet Café och Movies-Noir och betygen skiftar stort, det är allt mellan 1 och 5. Intressant det där när […]

    Biutiful

    November 17, 2011 at 8:32 am

  4. This is one of those films I have had for a very long time and just haven’t got around to it.

    The whole thing sounds far too painful and miserable, I think I may end up self harming at the end!!

    Thanks for sharing Jessica. Great use of MontyPython too.. Props for that

    Scott Lawlor

    November 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    • Don’t let me scare you out of it! As I said: there is a lot of misery going on, but in the end I think it’s a hopeful movie which shows that love and compassion is possible and meaningful even under the worst possible life conditions. That our choices matter and that we can and should do the best we can out of the time we have left to live, however short it is. It’s uplifting in its own way and I wouldn’t advice anyone against watching it, apart from if you have a sincere dislike for the previous works of this director (which some have.)

      Jessica

      November 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm

  5. HAHAHA what a fantastic use of that classic Monty Python sketch!

    I never got why people didn’t like this film. I loved it. I thought it was a fantastic, amazing picture; in fact, I liked it even more than Inarritu’s more esteemed film BABEL.

    Tyler

    November 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    • Wonderful to see another fan! I can’t believe how much negativity I’ve seen about it.

      Jessica

      November 17, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  6. I need to get around to seeing this film as well. Though your misery combo of Buried and Biutiful reminded me of a similar day I had a TIFF a few years back. I sat through back to back to back screenings of A Serious Man, Precious, and The Road. Man was I ever depressed heading home that night.

    CS

    November 18, 2011 at 1:43 am

    • Yeah the combo was a little much to me. I finished the day with It happened one night in an effort to cheer me up. But that didn’t succeed completely since I was bothered by the sexism in it.

      Jessica

      November 18, 2011 at 7:26 am

  7. […] had a date with misery a few days ago – check to see how it panned […]


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