Monkey Reviews

Through the Eyes of A Chimp

Monkey Reviews
July 4, 2011
OneWeek biutiful-movie-poster1

Where Life Finds Us - Review of Biutiful & One Week

“What would you do if you only had one week to live?” and “What makes Life Beautiful?” …. Seemingly unrelated questions except for the fact that both questions open us up to the possibility of an intriguing philosophical adventure or at least a dialogue that runs deeper than the regular conversational fare.

I’m attempting to do something I haven’t done yet on this movie blog, which at the outset, seems like a challenge. In the space of one week, actually it was 3 days, we saw two movies which at first glance, literally at the visual level, seem not at all related. But “Biutiful, a Spanish foreign film, and “One Week”, a very Canadian movie share many commonalities. I will attempt to reflect on both, hopefully weaving similarities and differences together.

Both movies take us on a journey where death is the ultimate destination – the main character in each film discovers that he has cancer. Both men turn their back on the news in an attempt to run far from this truth, each, of course in their own way. Both men, are entangled romantically and as part of their “healing” must untangle themselves; again, each in their own way. Both men feel cut off, isolated from those around them despite being surrounded by friends, family, significant loved ones and, in the case of Biutiful, by the crowded teeming Spanish streets and alleys.

I use the word “journey” very intentionally as it is of course a metaphor for what we do in life – move towards our own deaths and try to make meaning and find purpose along the way. But particularly, “One Week” is also about a literal journey. Ben, upon hearing his devastating news, sets out to have an adventure. As we see early on, his life-course has been established in that classic conventional passive way. And as often happens in stories, literary stories and the stories of our lives, what wakes us up is “bad news”. It’s that splash of cold water in the face we sometimes need to change course, to go out in faith against the collective current and with any luck, we might just find out who we were meant to be and ultimately that we are contained in something much more than just skin, bones, jobs, families, achievements as well as all those mistakes and regrets.

So this is where we find Ben, asking that “One Week” question and for the first time in his life, doing something intentional about it. The Canadian landscape along with many well-chosen songs accompany him, creating many visual symbolic references for Ben’s search for the source of life – a child-like “knowing” he had lost long ago. This part of the movie definitely adds a charm and I kept thinking to myself, “I’ve been there before, I’ve seen those places”. “One Week” manages to capture the Canada tourists see without making you feel you are seeing a cheesy travelogue. Perhaps being a tourist is just another way of saying that we are just passing through.

Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, in “Biutiful” is a tourist of a different kind in a different country; his landscape is the gritty streets of Spain, the grimy apartment dwelling, the physical chaos that comes from just getting by. His journey feels more akin to facing the demons that come from stepping into the underworld. Literally, he is very much involved in the underworld, involved in a variety of crimes – some petty, some not so petty. But this small time criminal is also caught in a passivity – a much darker passivity. He too must have his already broken life cracked open and dismantled even more. But Uxbal, this lost soul of dark places, has a gift. He hears what others don’t, he dreams of the other side where the air is cool and clear; his dreamscape is a place of rest much longed for. And like Ben, his news is also an invitation; home in that larger sense beckons him.

There is no quaint tourist charm here. There are no wholesome prairie scenes or mountain vistas, no awe-inspiring panoramic ocean views but as the title states there is Beauty. “Biutiful” is shot so real that the characters you see aren’t the beautiful people or the Spain of the travel brochures. Life portrayed in this movie is not beautiful in the classic obvious way but as the unraveling begins you see that there is something “biutiful” in a way you don’t notice if you just passed by in an uncomfortable hurry. This beauty is misspelled, through the scrawl of a child, so that those who don’t have the eyes to see won’t see it, won’t catch it. “Biutiful” barely hints at the presence of something precious and meaningful and it happens in the few interchanges where truth and compassion are present, where Uxbal, who is sick and dying, is accompanied by dreams, a spiritual mentor offering truth and love, as well as an unexpected stranger bringing a cup of cold water.

Both movies struck me as being poetic, worshipful even. One is more lyrical and contemplative, the other jarring yet subtle. Neither opt for easy answers or a quick resolution even though spiritual meaning, God and a religious sensibility is very much present yet never conventional. One is filled with moments of humour, the other is cloaked in pathos and sadness. Both “One Week” and “Biutiful” leave us wondering “What if …”. We are left looking for beauty in places we never thought possible and when you enter and move through the suffering that is a much better deal than the net of security convention offers.