(out of 5)
Javier Bardem wanders the streets of Barcelona among its most unfortunate inhabitants, scraping together a living selling handbag knockoffs and organizing cheap, illegal labour for Chinese immigrants. He has the ability to communicate with the dead, so he earns a few extra dollars helping grieving family members at funerals feel at peace about their losses, but given that he can barely feed his children anything better than rotten-looking fish and dry cereal, the chances that he’s putting together a decent living are slim. As if he didn’t have enough problems, Bardem finds out he has prostate cancer that, thanks to his having ignored it too long, has spread to other organs and is going to kill him. His medium friend advises him to avoid thinking about a cure and to focus on putting his affairs in order before dying, which involves wrapping up his issues with his shady businesses and finding somewhere safe for his children (the mother is not an option as her bipolar messiness has her in and out of mental hospitals). Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu has returned to the stage of international drama with a film that is the opposite of Babel: rather than examining multiple cultures around the world, it focuses on their collisions in one city, and the result is a pretentious, uneven bore that plays like an arthouse Ghost Whisperer. It has plenty of rich performances but no genuinely real moments; at some point it becomes painfully obvious that it is a movie about third-world suffering written by someone who has never been without privilege. Bardem’s character spends the entire film in hangdog misery and it is hard to tell if he actually experiences any manner of transition or transformation, while the supernatural elements of the story are uncomfortably tangential. Bardem’s handful of moments with spirits come off as the desperation of an amateur storyteller to perk up an otherwise dull narrative, rather than the organic inclusion of Latin American magic realism whose tradition the film would presumably be drawing upon. It runs an overly healthy two and a half hours and feels much longer.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto
Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Production Design by Brigitte Broch
Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione