Jan 25, 2011

SO GLAD I DON'T HAVE TO SEE*: Biutiful

"But Biutiful outstays its welcome, and the director can't resist a tempting tangent, darting down the side streets of the plot in pursuit of the foreign workers and their grinding lives. Ethically, this is commendable, but it throws the arc of the drama out of whack.... Nonetheless, the film should be endured, for the sake of it's leading man." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
Not for the sake of the leading man's performance, mind you, but for the sake of it's leading man, as if Bardem's feelings might be hurt if we do not go. Lane is not saying 'the film is something to be endured, but Bardem's performance is a treat'. That would be a nonsense, for Bardem is the on screen for most of its running time; an enjoyable central performance from him would lift the film firmly from the 'barely endurable' category. No, the film must be endured "for the sake of its leading man," which is to say, because Bardem is a talent and one ought to be supportive of talented people's work, even if it is something to be endured. Hmm. I wonder if he would say the same if this film weren't Spanish. I am one of Anthony's biggest fans, but at best this is unpersuasive and at worst it's codswallop. Another two hours of my life back. Shit. What to do.

* An occasional column devoted to those books, movies and art works which would, on balance, better serve us by remaining unread, unwatched and unseen, based on the principle that the reactions we have to absent art works can be every bit as enriching as to those demanding our urgent personal attention

11 comments:

  1. Yeah, I'm long past the phase of seeing movies that need be endured. "Challenging" movies are different, as those usually operate on a cerebral level; I don't even mind occasionally "unpleasant" (as I think the Siren mentioned here a while back) as long as other elements counteract it (a sense of gallows humor, a dramatic conviction, a poetic lyricism). But I'm through being worked over for the sake of being worked over - because it's supposed to be character-building, or because we're supposed to applaud the strain.

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  2. I've never been able to say "the film was terrible but the guy I spent 90 minutes with was terrific." I get that a bad film needn't sully my appreciation of the actor, or my hopes for his future roles, but that shouldn't stop one from saying, "sorry this one didn't pan out, better luck next time." I wouldn't dream of sending someone along to see The Devil's Advocate on the grounds that Al Pacino is a talent who needs our support. I would say: support this actor by renting Serpico.

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  3. Giving this one some thought. Craig's point is excellent, as always, but I admit I have a history of enduring lesser or even outright bad movies for the sake of a performer I adore. A while back I bragged about sitting through Paint Your Wagon for the sake of Jean Seberg (what's that? is anyone else in that movie?). If you think Biutiful tops that, you haven't seen Paint Your Wagon. I say that with perfect confidence even though I haven't seen Biutiful. This full review seems to be behind the firewall, so tell me; is Mr. Lane perhaps saying that Biutiful is worth enduring for the small scraps of Bardem goodness you get, or if you are a Bardem completist? Because if so, I wouldn't do it for Bardem, talented man though he is, but if Mr. Lane were writing about, say, Constance Bennett or Kay Francis, I'd be saying rock on.

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  4. I am not sure what the answer is. I suspect that AL knows he cannot quite say "The film is bad but Bardem's performance is good" because, as far as I can make out from this and other reviews, Bardem's performance is the movie. Of your options, I think his argument is closest to "see it if your are a Bardem completist". My point is: he didn't enjoy himself. Therefore he shouldn't be recommending it.

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  5. True. I didn't tell anyone they had to see Doctor Monica, I don't need the guilt.

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  6. I admit I have a history of enduring lesser or even outright bad movies for the sake of a performer I adore.

    True. I'd rather watch a bad or mediocre movie than a punishing movie in any instance, especially when there's a good performance somewhere in it. Stephanie Zacharek calls it the "'If it makes you feel terrible, it must be great!' school of filmmaking," though her reasoning for half-recommending Biutiful falls in line with Lane's. Apparently, the Academy agrees too.

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  7. "I'd rather watch a bad or mediocre movie than a punishing movie in any instance."

    Oh my yes. But then the question arises, where do you say, that's enough, I'm being punished? With an old movie I usually say that when Betty Hutton or a twinkly old priest shows up. With new movies I usually decide the director hates me when the body fluids reach a certain level.

    With Bardem, I'm not dissing his performance because I haven't seen it; but I always think the Academy is a bit like other exclusive clubs, where once you're in, you're in. Get a nomination once and you're our kind, darling.

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  8. With new movies I usually decide the director hates me when the body fluids reach a certain level.

    That's generally a reliable yardstick. Speaking of humours, any one of Joaquin Phoenix's revered phlegmatic turns does the job on me as well.

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  9. I think this is just typically bad writing on Lane's part. On its face value the sentence is nonsense--what does "should be endured" even mean? He's probably trying to make some comment on Bardem's performance, but who can tell what it is?

    Last night I picked up one of my folks' New Yorkers at random--from last month I think. Lane had a review in which he wrote (I paraphrase, but only just) "If you thought the witches in "Macbeth" were scary, then you should see the sisters in "The Fighter"! I thought, my god, that sentence would come across as flip and callow in a high school essay. Maybe in the pages of the New Yorker it's meant to be ironically flip and callow? Really, this kind of writing is allowed to stand unedited....in the New Yorker? The days of Kael seem so very far away and long ago.

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  10. Why not rent Pacino in "You Don't Know Jack"? A fine performance in an engaging and, yes, entertaining recent film.

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