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biutifulDirector Alejandro Inarritu has show signs of brilliance in his previous films (21 Grams, Babel), but I haven’t loved any of his works.

Biutiful – a title which reminds me of the misspelling in The Pursuit of Happyness – is his best effort so far.

I had never been all that impressed by Javier Bardem, and with this two and a half hour movie, I was all prepared to write “He should be called Javier Boredom.”

Surprisingly, the film held my interest. And his Oscar nominated performance deserved the accolades it got.

This story takes place in Barcelona – but instead of seeing the beautiful Gaudi architecture, or the Magic Fountain of Montjuic – you’re seeing the slums.

We see seedy apartments, sweat shops with slave labor, and illegal street vendors that sometimes dabble in drug dealing.

Unlike Inarritu’s previous films, we get to focus on just one main character. Sure, there are other stories going on.

Bardem can see dead people. And he doesn’t mind making some extra cash by telling the grieving what they have to say.

He bribes the local police so his African vendors can sell fake Gucci bags, and he takes pay-offs from the Chinese that are running the sweat shops. Of course, he has a heart of gold. He wants these people working for him to be taken care of, even if that means money out of his own pocket.

Early on, we find out that he’s dying (after he draws his own blood at a hospital, like something his character would’ve done in No Country For Old Men).

I’m not sure why we needed multiple shots of him urinating blood. We got the point. He’s dying.

Bardem’s relationship with his two kids is a beautiful thing to witness; dealing with his crazy ex-wife, a lot less so (you thought his ex in Vicki Cristina Barcelona was a bipolar nightmare…)

Aside from Bardem’s great range of emotions displayed in this film, I really enjoyed watching Diarytou Daff, who plays the wife of one of the street vendors that Bardem helps out. The way their relationship develops is beautiful.

I liked how the subtitles were white when characters spoke Spanish, blue when the Chinese characters spoke, and green when the African vendors talked to each other.

I didn’t care for the musical score, which had guitar strings being plucked slowly. It did work well in a scene near the end when a character is out of it and the music is similar in style, but has a distortion and sound that adds to his disoriented nature.

There are a few scenes in this that remind me of Black Swan. The hand-held camera when the protagonist walks, a nightclub visit when the character is out of it, and a few other dark scenes.

The critics haven’t been as kind to this film as they were to Black Swan, and I understand why.

More could’ve been done with his communicating with the dead. The director also needs to veer away from always doing films that center on misery. Oh, and there were lots of contrived situations and scenes.

I’ve grown tired of opening scenes that are also the ending scenes. As in this movie, it gives too much away and is an annoying thing to do at this point.

This is a tour de force for Bardem, who makes this film – the feel bad movie of the year – worth watching. I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone, though. It’s a real downer. It will win the best foreign film Oscar, though.

I’m giving it a C+.