Vancouver International Film Festival 2010 Report
by John Phillip Jones 
Rodrigo Prieto is one of the most sought after cinematographers in the industry today. Nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), he was also the cinematographer in Ang Lee’s 2007 film, “Lust, Caution”. He has also collaborated with Alejandro Inarritu on “Babel” (2006), “21 Grams” (2003), and “Amores Perros” (2000). He has also worked with Oliver Stone and for Spike Lee as the Director of Photography on “Alexander” (2004) and “25th Hour” (2002), respectively. He has collaborated with Julie Taymor in “Frida” (2002) and with Curtis Hanson on “8 Mile” (2002). “Original Sin” with Director Michael Cristofer (2001) was Rodrigo’s first big, American film, however he boasts an extensive list of credits in his native Mexico.
 Alejandro Inarritu and Rodrigo Prieto, AMC ASC

In “Biutiful” Prieto, who possesses a connoisseur’s eye for the rough quality of urban squalor, composes a dynamic vision of street life.  "Biutiful" means to offer a grimy antidote to the ubiquitous hedonistic representations of Barcelona. Seldom has the city been portrayed as a pit of crime and exploitation. Rodrigo Prieto's outstanding handheld camerawork enhances the tiny cramped interior spaces, and narrow streets of the Santa Coloma neighborhood to bring the viewer to an almost unbearable proximity with the characters and their surroundings.

Prieto offers a potent vision of street life with an eye for the textures of urban grime. The almost promiscuous closeness of the African immigrant’s digs, the prison barracks feel of the Chinese laborer’s accommodations and especially toilets are shot in heart breaking detail. The kinetic tour de force of the police crackdown of immigrant street vendors, provides a welcome respite to the to the film’s heaviness.  The film’s feel is overwhelmingly dark; the garish and libidinous nightclub scene only further accentuates the air of despair.


 Alejandro Inarritu setting up a shot using Rodrigo's Panavision
camera and lenses as a director's viewfinder.

 Javier Bardem under a gritty fluorescent illumination

 "Biutiful" resolves around Uxbal, played by Bardem in a performance worthy of at least an Oscar nomination. Uxbal, an underworld entrepreneur, seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He dabbles in many illicit activities, from importing illegal Chinese labor to supplying counterfeit goods to street vendors. He is also called upon by grieving relatives to communicate with their recently deceased loved ones to ease their way into the next world. He is a caring father who has custody of his two young children, as his estranged wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) is manic-depressive and promiscuous to the point of sleeping with his nightclub owner brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez). Apart from all the other hats he wears he also feels responsible for the welfare of his illegal wards. 

When Uxbal is told he has cancer and only months to live, he rushes to set his affairs in order. With the exception of Ige, a Senegalese woman (Diaryatou Daff) whom he hires to watch his children, the adults he deals with prove to be unreliable to an extreme. Even Uxbal's best intentions have fatal consequences. Bardem's physical and controlled performance makes clear it that first and foremost he is a loving parent.

 “Biutiful” is definitely destined for the art-film crowd; it is by no means fare for suburban multiplexes. It is far too emotional and raw. The hand that life deals Uxbal is far too harsh, and the downward spiral has almost no uplifting moments save his daughter’s birthday and Ige’s almost imperceptible return. Hopefully, Prieto will manage and/or allowed to work his magic in Oliver Stone’s sequel “Wall Street”.

The film is one of five productions in a $100 million deal between Gonzalez Inarritu, Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and the film companies Cha Cha Cha, Universal Pictures, and Focus Features International. Soundtrack by Gustavo Santoalla.

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