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Cannes Review: “Biutiful.”

Cannes Review: “Biutiful.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

Beneath all the swift camerawork and rapid editing, Alejandro González Iñárritu remains a sentimentalist. In his latest, “Biutiful,” a stylized paean to a devoted father in the slums of Barcelona, the Mexican director once again plays up the melodramatics — with mixed results.

Dedicated to his own father, and working for the first time without screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Iñárritu abandons the interlocking narrative trickery of “Amores Perros” and “Babel” to tell a more or less straightforward story of a father’s battles with poverty, responsibility, guilt and redemption.

Javier Bardem is Uxbal, a dour man with two kids, a bipolar ex-wife, a talent for reading the minds of the recently deceased and a mid-level player in the black market. While the film sets itself up in the spiritual realm, with an evocative dreamlike sequence in a snowy forest landscape and the appearance of a young ghost boy, most of the movie finds Uxbal in the mean streets and cluttered apartments of the Spanish city’s poor neighborhoods.

Iñárritu recreates his own “Babel”-like mix of racial diversity, as Uxbal works for a Chinese warehouse owner, and acts as a liaison between their Chinese laborers and the Africans who sell their wares illegally on the street. (These supporting characters work to greater and lesser degrees; a gay relationship among the Chinese businessmen is forced; the Africans are conceived as all-too-innocent victims.)

Still, Iñárritu and crew keep the proceedings restlessly alive — Rodrigo Prieto’s camera and Stephen Mirrione’s editing rarely stand still — and the frame is always filled with the detritus of everyday life. And the director clearly knows how to direct an action sequence, with a heart-thumping scene involving police chasing down illegal merchants through crowded plazas, streets and sidewalks. If Iñárritu might toss off all the heavy psychologizing and social statements, he might be a solid pick for the next James Bond film.

05142010_InarrituBiutiful2.jpgBut despite all the jittery cinematography, Bardem’s Uxbal isn’t as compelling as he needs to be. Though the actor is as burly and entrancing to gaze upon as ever, with his immense eyes and combination of brutish intensity and gentle sensitivity, the character remains vague and pretty much miserable the entire time. He has every right to be, given all of his circumstances, but the unending moroseness of the character and the film begins to outlast its welcome — and when the story reaches its gentle final epiphany, it’s all too forecasted.

True to his commercial roots, Iñárritu knows how to craft memorable images: the dead suspended near the ceiling, as black moths linger by, trying to escape their earthly roots; the surreal, flashing bodies and lights of a discotheque. But the sort of “biutiful” that Iñárritu is constantly reaching for — something deep, profound and spiritual — is often just outside his grasp.

“Biutiful” is currently without U.S. distribution.

[Photos: Javier Bardem in “Biutiful,” Focus Features, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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