Misery brought to a new level | The Velvet Café

biutifulI 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:


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


Cardboard box?




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.


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!


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.


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

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