‘Biutiful’ shows at Aspen Academy Screenings
ASPEN – In “The Sea Inside,” Javier Bardem took a good, thorough, honest look at death. Spanish director Alejandro Amenbar’s 2004 movie, which earned the Academy Award for best foreign language film, starred Bardem as Ramn, a paraplegic who fights for the right to die how and when he sees fit. (Bardem had a more sardonic acquaintance with death in the Joel and Ethan Coen’s “No Country For Old Men”: He earned an Oscar for his portrayal of the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh.)Which has still left much room on the subject for the actor to explore. In “Biutiful,” a Spanish-language film by Mexican-born director Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu, Bardem plays another character staring at his last days. His Uxbal is dying of cancer: He is peeing blood; his physical body is exhausted. And his engagement with death goes beyond his own demise. In one of his occupations, he serves as a medium, connecting the living with their loved ones who have crossed into the afterlife. His other job, just as shadowy, involves overseeing employment for illegal immigrants – work that puts Uxbal in close proximity to danger and death.But in ways similar to Ramn in “The Sea Inside,” Uxbal uses his situation to cast more light on life than on death. Existing in blue-tinged alleys, warehouses and cramped apartments in the lesser neighborhoods of Barcelona, he squeezes the life out of his final weeks, in hopes of an honest redemption. Uxbal stands up for the helpless immigrants, cares for his children, and shows extraordinary patience with his estranged, wayward wife.”It’s an important role,” the 41-year-old Bardem, a resident of Madrid, said by phone from Los Angeles. “He brings to the screen some of the matters we have to face when we come to our end: What have we done wrong? What do we have to do right? And the struggle he’s in, he has to bring out the best of himself, the quality of forgiveness.”As much on-screen experience as he may have had with the subject, Bardem hasn’t developed a protective shell that keeps the emotions associated with death at a distance from the actor. “It’s hard. There’s no other word for it. Hard, internal, a reach. Not only on a production level, but on a human level. You’re constantly trying on new emotions,” he said.”Biutiful” – which shows Thursday at Harris Hall in Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series, and which is nominated for a Golden Globe for best foreign language film – was especially rough because of the duration of filming, which lasted five months. And unlike Irritu’s past films, including “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams” and “Babel,” “Biutiful” doesn’t feature multiple, entwined story lines; Bardem is on-screen for nearly every minute.”To hold that emotional state for so long was a big challenge,” Bardem said. “And to be in and out of it was difficult; there was no room for that. When you come back home, you can’t rest the character. He is with you. You can’t put him in the closet. It was my most demanding role, for sure, because of the weight and commitment.”Adding to the burden was the multiple sides of Uxbal that had to be created. The character is weary and strong, exasperated and hopeful, keeping secrets while trying to be emotionally open. “We have to feel something for that person,” Bardem said. “And to feel that, we have to see all of him.”Bardem sounds pleased to have gone through what it took to build a fleshed-out Uxbal. “You start to walk with him, hand in hand,” he said. “I like movies where a character is not right or wrong,” he said. “Life is not villains and heroes. We are imperfect machines.”Bardem believes that “Biutiful” has more to say about our time on earth than it does on dying and the hereafter.”As Alejandro said, it’s a movie about life from the perspective of death,” he said.
The Academy Screenings features “Made in Dagenham” at 5:30 p.m. and “Biutiful” at 8:15 p.m. at Aspen’s Harris Hall on Thursday, Dec. firstname.lastname@example.org
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