DVD Review - Biutiful
Biutiful stars Javier Bardem who was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for this role. Bardem plays Uxbal, a middle-aged Spaniard who is diagnosed with late-stage cancer, which only gives him a few months left to live. He's dirt poor. He lives in a crappy apartment with his two kids and faces the prospects of leaving his two kids as orphans. His kids have a mother, but she lost custody some time ago due to mental problems or substance abuse problems.
Because he barely has enough money to feed his family, Uxbal turns to working in the black market. Uxbal basically coordinates a group of African immigrants who sell knock-offs on the streets of Barcelona with the supplier of their phony goods, two Chinese men who run a sweatshop.
Iñárritu's nearly two and a half hours allow for some development of these other characters. The two Chinese men for example are gay. The eldest of the two is named Hai. His repressed homosexuality is beautifully expressed in one scene and his rejection of it is horrifyingly expressed in another. Some of the African immigrants are from Senegal. One of them is a mother named Ige. Her worries about deportation is effectively expressed in one or two scenes as well.
Ige gets some more screen time, as eventually she's brought into Uxbal's home to live. The mother of Uxbal's children, Marambra, is developed and performed very well too, but really the focus is on Uxbal and Bardem as that character. There's some great cinematography going on in this film, but really it's all about Bardem. All of this is really just another vehicle for him to shine as an actor.
Uxbal thinks that perhaps things will work out with his children's mother. He thinks that maybe he can help the immigrants and make a little money for himself. However, none of this works out. Uxbal isn't able to do anything to improve his health, so over time we watch as he mentally and physically is worn down. As Uxbal progressively gets worse, Bardem is able to portray it perfectly if not hauntingly well until he becomes literally bed-ridden.
The main conflict rests in the fact that Uxbal keeps his illness a secret from his kids and those who would care about him. It stands to reason what his exit strategy is. I feel like the nature of what was faced would have compelled him to confide in his family or the mother of his children but he doesn't. This is perhaps the weakest part of Iñárritu's script.
At least, the narrative in this movie is straight-forward. Unlike with Iñárritu's previous movies, the scenes in Biutiful are laid out chronologically. This might make the movie seem boring and slowly paced by comparison but Iñárritu's direction and cinematography make up for it. His camerawork and imagery are compelling. It may not all make sense, but it is compelling.
I'm not sure what a dead owl and a young man in a snowy wood signify, but it is interesting to see. Another compelling image is inside a night club where Uxbal is trying to talk to his brother but only succeeds in talking to strangers in a drugged up haze. There are two shots of dead bodies piled up. The one that has bodies washing up on a beach is particularly powerful emotionally when you see what caused it.
Finally, Iñárritu has a shot that's very cinéma vérité. He has Bardem walking along a city street, possibly along an overpass. The shot is handheld as we follow Bardem when all of a sudden we look up to see a flock of birds in the twilight sky. It was similar to a shot that independent filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray captured in The Exploding Girl. This movie might be called, though not in a literal sense, the exploding man.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing images, language, nudity and drug use.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 28 mins.