Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's Biutiful still hasn't landed as distribution deal two months after its Cannes Film Festival debut. The reason, I gather, is that distributors fear that it's too much of a downer (scruffy Barcelona, a gloomy-eyed, protagonist, ghosts, cancer, mental illness), especially with a significant percentage of Cannes critics (like EW's Owen Gleiberman) having put it down.
A lot of people (myself included) thought Biutiful was the shit -- one of the finest 2010 films thus far. And you'd think that Javier Bardem having won the Best Actor prize at Cannes would have spurred some kind of deal by now. But the Eloi mentality has spread like a virus (a San Francisco friend told me last night she isn't interested in seeing anything that isn't "pure entertainment"), and any film that doesn't deliver some kind of cinematic quaalude high (laughs, emotion, visual wows) is in a fix right now.
Perhaps distributors are squeamish about the cost of U.S. rights plus funding a Best Actor campaign for Bardem. But mainly, I suspect, the prospect of the Gleiberman gang delivering a barrage of deft knife jabs when Biutiful opens stateside has given them the willies. It's been said that film critics have no power anymore. Well, they do.
I called it "a sad and deeply touching hard-knocks, lower-depths drama in the tradition (or along the lines, even) of Roberto Rosselini's Open City or Vittorio DeSica's The Bicycle Thief. How's that for high praise out of the gate ?
"Set among the poor and deprived in Barcelona, it's about love and caring and continuity and carrying on among those who have it toughest, and dealing with guilt and tradition and the approaching of death and all the rest of the stuff that we all carry on our backs.
"Every actor is exactly right and spot-on in this film, but Javier Bardem gives a truly stellar performance in the title role of an illegal migrant labor and street-vendor manager-facilitator.
"[The film] starts out brilliantly, and then slips into a longish character-introducing, character-building, filling-in-the-details phase that goes on for a 90 minutes or so, and then -- bit by bit, and then in increasing increments -- it starts to emotionally kick in. And that's when I knew it was delivering something special."