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Bleak is Biutiful

Rating: **1/2

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An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor, the Mexican import Biutiful has much in common with writer-director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's previous film. Like Babel, it takes some interesting ideas and belabors them for well over two fidgety hours.

In a typically compelling performance, Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a Barcelona resident who decides to put his affairs in order once he learns that he's dying of cancer. A conscientious man who nevertheless provides Chinese sweatshop owners with illegal workers, Uxbal has to deal with his unstable, adulterous and alcoholic wife (Maricel Alvarez), their two young kids, and — shades of Hereafter — the ability to communicate with the dearly departed.

That's more than enough fodder to fill a screenplay, and I don't begrudge Inarritu his burning desire to consistently make cynical movies that wallow in the mire (he also directed 21 Grams and Amores Perros, both better than either Babel or Biutiful). But he and co-scripters Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone pile on the grim incidents by also following the (mis)fortunes of several supporting characters who detract from Uxbal's ordeal. It doesn't make the movie far-reaching or well-rounded; it just makes it bloated.

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