Film review – ‘Biutiful’

Unremittingly dark and yet with the fierce light of redemption, ‘Biutiful’ is a powerful film set on the mean streets of Barcelona that the toursit doesn’t see.

Just like the iconic cathedral looming over the seedy underbelly of director Alejandro González Inárritu’s Barcelona, cancer-ridden Uxbal is reaching for heaven from the bowels of hell.

Told he has just months to live, the single dad accepts he must put his affairs in order and sets about scraping together enough cash to secure his children’s future.

Unfortunately for him the cops are threatening his hand-to-mouth existence, which is funded by counterfeit goods and illegal immigrant labour.
And his ex-wife – a sometime whore and manic depressive – is proving to be an unfit mother to their two children despite all his loving support.

The question is will Uxbal, who is gifted with the supernatural ability to help the dead find inner peace, ever become a happy soul himself?

It is to actor Javier Bardem’s endless credit that from this coarse and ugly narrative he is able to stitch together a performance that is indeed ”˜Biutiful’.
Yes this extraordinary film is about pissing blood, dying and tragedy heaped upon tragedy, yet there is joy and it comes from Uxbal’s relationships ”“ predominantly with his two small children Ana and Mateo, but also with his erratic ex-wife Marambra.

Just like every other ”˜if only’ situation in Uxbal’s life you get the sense their marriage could have worked ”˜if only’ she wasn’t blighted by frenetic highs and crushing lows.

The film is in Inárritu’s native tongue but the two molten pools set in Bardem’s epically noble face translate into any language.

He is perfect for a film that explores the personal tragedy of being able to feel ”“ in fact feeling too much – in an environment so brutal that your day-to-day survival demands that you don’t.

For instance when Uxbal takes pity on his illegal workers and buys them portable heaters he inadvertently causes their mass death ”“ becoming crippled with guilt and risking arrest by the authorities.

An anti-hero, an angel with clipped wings ”“ call him what you will.
Inárritu and Bardem have created a nearly-man whose fate we can actually care about.

When the inevitable ending comes the film finishes where it began with a death ”“ a theme that clearly intrigues the Mexican director, who is noted for the so-called ”˜death trilogy’ featuring ”˜Amores Perros’, ’21 Grams’ and ”˜Babel’ (all of which are highly recommended).

In each of his films Inárritu shows how the consequences of a death ripple outwards in unexpected ways – interconnecting disparate lives.

He also demonstrates that even horrible deaths like the ones in ”˜Biutiful’ ”“ by cancer, poisonous fumes, car accidents and even a gay lover’s blade ”“ can be the beginning of something beautiful.

One senses we are still only just seeing the beginning of what this visionary director has to offer.

If there is justice in the world – the kind of justice men like Uxbal believe in – winning the ”˜Best Foreign Language Film’ and ”˜Best Actor’ Oscars would be a ”˜Biutiful’ result for the filmmakers who have invested three-and-a-half years in its brilliance.


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