Monday, 6 June 2011

Just What You Were Waiting For: Two Relentlessly Depressing Films (Biutiful and Enter the Void)


When, early in Biutiful, our protagonist (Uxbal, played marvellously by Javier Bardem) finds out he has an advanced form of cancer and only weeks to live, you know we are in a for a fun time. And we get just as much fun as you might expect. No, I lie. We get ever so much more fun than you might expect.

Uxbal is a loving father of two adorable but troubled kids. He is separated from his wife (Marambra, played by Maricel Alvarez), who is bipolar and abusive. To make a living, Uxbal works for people who exploit recent illegal immigrants to Barcelona. He is breaking the law, but we can see that his heart is in the right place. He actually cares for the poor people he is exploiting, even before he gets diagnosed and tries to put his life in order (which includes various attempts to help the immigrants). But Uxbal’s attempts to help immigrants, like his attempts to help his wife and children, are consistently thwarted.

The result is a film that spirals downward into tragedy and despair. But Javier Bardem does such a great job of making Uxbal believable in his criminal goodness that Biutiful worked for me. I found Uxbal a very sympathetic character and had no trouble understanding the war of clashing values which made his life so difficult both before and after the diagnosis.

Biutiful is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who made the great Amores Perros and two underrated films (21 Grams and Babel). Since I’ve loved everything he has done, I was not surprised that I would find Biutiful to be a compelling well-made film which is once again underrated (IMHO). ***+ My mug is up.

Not wanting to end my day with such a depressing film, I decided to enter the void, watching a film about which I knew nothing except that it was highly recommended by both Gareth and Jett on The Film Talk. In the immortal words of Captain Alberto Bertorelli: “What a mistake-a to make-a”.

Enter the Void

Wow! Wow!

Enough said!

Well, no, if I just give Enter the Void two wows (and you know that automatically means a minimum of ***+) then you might decide it is something you should watch, even if it is relentlessly depressing. Do not make that mistake unless you are ready to go on a trip unlike any you have ever been on in a theatre or at home (unless of course you use substances like LSD).

Enter the Void, written and directed by Gaspar Noe, is not like any film I have ever seen. If I had ever used LSD myself, I might compare this film to going on such a trip, but I do not have that experience to compare it to. So I buckled up as much as I could and went on a ride down into the dark underbelly of Tokyo, where our protagonist (Oscar, played by Nathaniel Brown) begins by taking a mesmerizing trip of the aforementioned variety (and we get to join him) before going to a bar to sell some drugs to a friend. Well, the next thing you know Oscar is dead and for the next two and a half hours we get to experience death through his eyes and mind, including watching Oscar’s life flashing before his eyes, a life that had its wonderful sweet moments but also a few too many horrific ones that we get to experience more than once (oh joy!).

It felt like a very plausible death trip to me and who wouldn’t want to see what it’s like to be dead? You, that’s who. Unless you are up for the ride of your life (a very very slow-moving ride of your life). What I’m doing here is trying to warn people to stay away from Enter the Void (like the masses have certainly done to this point) unless you have the patience and stomach for it. If you do, you may be blown away like I was, but you’ll have to sit through an incredibly disturbing graphic scene of an abortion, among other graphic scenes (sex, drugs, not too much violence), and be prepared for all that relentless depression.

Enter the Void is an amazing mind-blowing work of cinematic art that finds a new way to explore the human search for connection which so many people in our world hunger for. It is beautiful and ugly, awful and awe-full. It is an experience that requires at least a large-screen television, it is an experience you may want to share with friends (too late for me) and it is an experience you may not want to have again. It is worthy of at least ***+ and I am tempted to give it more but it didn’t leave me as numb as Requiem for a Dream (not for lack of trying), so I’ll stay at this for now. My mug is up, but be warned: this is a potent brew that not everyone is ready for.

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