Sean Penn leads charge for 'Biutiful' awards recognition
But Penn did much more than just moderate; he endorsed the somber, rather harrowing film, which he called much more than a movie, with full gusto. "I have not seen a performance like this since Marlon Brando in 'Last Tango in Paris,'" said Penn of Bardem's lead role as Uxbal, the father of two trying to survive a life in underground Barcelona. Penn made time for the screening before leaving Monday for continued relief work in Haiti.
In contrast, Bardem tried to lighten the mood of the packed theater, thanking the audience for coming out on a Sunday "to the feeling good movie of the year." Penn picked up on this strain of thinking and tried to enlist the audience in a vast conspiracy, whereby all 200 or so audience members would leave the theater "telling everyone this is a feel-good movie."
"We are part of a culture that says it's too relentless," Penn added. "Our culture wants relief. But isn't feeling things and having it articulated in such a way that you wish so many people could see it with you, doesn't it ultimately lead you to feeling better," he questioned.
The R-rated drama, which first bowed at the Cannes film festival where Bardem received the best actor award, is a tough grind, regardless. But it's clear that the underground world that Inarritu depicts is one Penn has glimpsed through his relief work. It's a world where illegal immigrants are trying desperately to survive for themselves and their family and the lengths they will go to to do so. It also illustrates the levels of exploitation within that world, where everyone is out for themselves even as they offer slivers of kindness to others. "There is more about the world in this film than I see on the news," Penn said.
Penn, a man who has never shied away from criticizing the academy, added, "Let's redefine what we celebrate at this time of year." He also wondered where the great American films of the 70s went. Then answered as only a man who's very good friends with the director could have, "They went to the guys who used to cut our lawns."
"Biutiful" will open in very limited release on Dec. 29. It has already grossed close to $7 million internationally.
Photo: Sean Penn, Javier Bardem and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Credit: Jesse Grant/Wire Image