A grueling vision of one man’s journey towards death.
A gruelling vision
of one man’s journey towards death.
Gonzalez Inarittu has always been a director with a very unique vision. His
fascination with death, made apparent in 21 Grams (2003), mixed with his
penchant for humans in a community, even on a global scale in Babel (2006),
have made him a filmmaker with ideas that are hard to ignore. Biutiful sees
much of these themes reoccur but, crucially, he refrains from using his
previous multiple character narrative to focus on just one. In a two hour plus
running time this would be daunting for any actor, thankfully it is Javier
Bardem’s central performance that keeps much of Biutiful beautiful.
Uxbal (Bardem) is
a petty criminal dealing with illegal immigrants on the streets of Barcelona.
Looking after his two young children and trying to help his bipolar wife
Marambra (Alvarez) he makes money on the side communicating with the recently
deceased. But, when Uxbal is told that he has only months to live his priorities
shift and he must chose where the little life he has will take him.
It would be an
understatement to call Biutiful down beat. There is very little light at the
end of this tunnel, so much so that it may in fact just be a darkened cave or,
more aptly, a tomb. Through Inarittu’s lens Barcelona is not the buzzing
metropolis of such films as Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona (2008) but instead a den
of thieves, pimps and drug dealers. The people who walk the streets are zombie
like, ghosts from a former existence. Indeed like the cancer within Uxbal the
rot has truly set within the city and it is surely only a matter of time before
In any other
story Uxbal would be a villain. A man so corrupt that he aims to get illegal
immigrants working on his brother’s construction site in exchange for a large
percentage of their wages. However, Uxbal is also a loving father and it is
here we begin to see some signs of redemption. Indeed the film is strongest
when addressing the themes of fatherhood. The opening scene in particular sees
Uxbal in an ethereal forest talking with the father he never knew before waking
and engaging in a whispered exchange his daughter. It is a moment so delicate
it is in direct contrast to the bleak outlook for the rest of the film. It is
unfortunate that these moments are fleeting, as they are stunning to behold.
While the film
often delves into the realm of self indulgence, with Inarritu thinking little
of his audience’s patience, Javier Bardem cements himself as one of the most
stunning actors of his generation. His lumbering frame hunched over like a
prowling bear belies his delicate poise. Uxbal does terrible things but with
Bardem’s aching pathos you find yourself instantly drawn to him. His Oscar
nomination for the role was fully warranted and without him Biutiful would be
an incredibly laborious task.
Biutiful is a
tough nut to crack. On the one hand it is a hard slog set in a world so bleak
you wonder if there are masked vigilantes hiding round every corner, on the
other Bardem’s performance is a revelation, lighting up the screen in ways that
Inarritu could never have hoped for. The film is dedicated to Inarritu’s father
who he refers to as his “Oak”. Thankfully Biutiful has it’s own sturdy oak in
the form of Bardem and it is from him that the film blossoms.