Friday, January 28, 2011

Two Contemplative, Downbeat Films

By Skip Sheffield

It’s the opposite of a slam-bang action weekend in new film releases, with two contemplative, dare we say downbeat? foreign films.
The oddly-spelled “Biutiful” is generating the most interest because it has an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Film (Spain) and its star Javier Bardem is a Best Actor candidate.
There is no question Bardem does a masterful job as Uxbal, a Barcelona hustler involved in shady dealings, mostly involving crooked cops and illegal immigrants.
On the other hand Uxbal is a loving father to two young children, whom he is raising as a single parent because of their mother’s mental illness and utter irresponsibility.
His wife Marimba (Maricel Avarez) has sunk so low she does tricks as a prostitute when she is not sleeping with Uxbal’s no-count brother.
If this weren’t grim enough, Uxbal is trying to carry on his chaotic ordinary life with the knowledge he has terminal cancer and only a couple months left to live.
Yes, Mexican writer-director Alejandro Guillermo Inarritu has really heaped the misery on his leading character, yet Bardem’s Uxbal soldiers on with stoicism and generosity, even as he is entering the terminal stages of illness.
So you see the title, which is Uxbal’s young son’s misspelling on a crayon drawing, is anything but “Beautiful.” The paradox, if you stick with the story through its two-and-a-half-hour length, is that this is a tale of redemption. It is a remarkable performance by Bardem, surely one of the best actors in the world today.

“Another Year” Unexciting but Reassuring

“Another Year” is an unexciting title for an unexciting film by British director Mike Leigh. That is meant in a good way, because “Another Year” is a film of great subtlety, anchored by two fine character actors.
Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a long-married couple still in love in the autumn of their years (the film is divided into the four seasons).
By contrast everyone around them is not happy at all. Gerri’s best friend Janet (Imelda Staunton) is almost comatose from depression. Tom’s old friend Ken (Peter Wight) is pretty much a lush with other bad habits. Then there’s Mary (Lesley Manville) who also drinks too much and struggles with depression.
Tom and Gerri, so different from the cartoon characters, are almost apologetic for being so darn content, with fulfilling jobs, useful hobbies, and a good relationship with their grown son (Oliver Maltman). In short, the challenges of life do not get Tom and Gerri down.
For that “Another Year” is a lovely, uplifting and gently entertaining film.

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