At Cannes, there are two kinds of movies that take home the top jury prize, the droolingly coveted Palme d’Or. There are the films that deserve it, like Taxi Driver or The Ballad of Narayama or sex, lies, and videotape or 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. And there are the movies that achieve a notably facile, Euro-friendly brand of total heaviosity, and are therefore shoo-ins. You probably think that I’m just finding a snarky way to dismiss the Palme d’Or winners I haven’t agreed with. But I’d contend that the celebrated Cannes films in the total-heaviosity category, while acclaimed at the time as deathless works of art, don’t age well. To see what I mean, here’s a list of some of those winners: The Mission, Elephant, Wild at Heart, Farewell My Concubine, Barton Fink, Paris, Texas, and — give it time — last year’s The White Ribbon. Be honest: Are you moved, truly, to see any of those movies again? (I’ve got kind of a soft spot for Barton Fink, but please.) This is the sort of heaviosity that only grows heavier, yet less profound, with the years.
This morning, I saw Biutiful, the new movie by Alejandro González Iñnáritu, a director whose work I have always enjoyed, and admired, tremendously. I was blown away by Amores Perros (2000), thought 21 Grams (2003) was convulsive and powerful if a little pretentious, and got sucked right into the globe-hopping vortex of humanistic strife that was Babel (2006), a movie so middlebrow-liberal and Oscar-ready that it didn’t even win at Cannes. Biutiful, on the other hand, may just come through for Iñárritu, even though I think it’s the first film of his that doesn’t really work. It’s set in one of the scruffiest, most low-rent districts of Barcelona, and its main character — in many ways, its only character — is a vaguely defined underworld operator named Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, who brings the role every charismatically morose shading of disruption and anger and despair he can. READ FULL STORY »