This is the journey of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. As fate encircles him and thresholds are crossed, a dim, redemptive road brightens, illuminating the inheritances bestowed from father to child, and the paternal guiding hand that navigates life’s corridors, whether bright, bad – or biutiful.
CANNES: Uxbal, the beleagured Spaniard played by Javier Bardem, has the weight of this world and the next one on his shoulders in Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's Biutiful.
The characters in the director's 21 Grams and Babel faced tragedy and challenges but developments on the distress-o-meter were spread around. In this sad and grimy but consistently watchable tale about a man trying to get his affairs in order before he succumbs to a painful fatal illness, the bad news is laid on with a trowel.
Uxbal is a sort of go-between for Chinese businessmen running a sweat shop for 25 illegal Chinese immigrants. He's in charge of paying local cops to look the other way when illegal African immigrants peddle their wares. Drugs may or may not be part of the equation.
He's separated from his wife, who's been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder which means their two kids' resourcefully criminal dad has custody. Uxbal genuinely cares for his young son and soon-to-be-10-year-old daughter and does his best to keep them fed and clothed and get them to school and babysitters while juggling the nasty associates with whom he does business. And, oh yeah – he's dying.
Uxbal has a very specific gift for communicating with the dead soon after they expire. If their souls are hanging around, he can tell the living what's holding back their loved one's transition to the afterlife.
What credibility the film has is due in large part to Bardem's performance for which he shared the Best Actor prize at Cannes. Our sympathy is supposed to be roused by Uxbal's determination to be a better parent to his kids than his progenitors were to him. The thing is, just because you're determined not to make the same mistakes your parents did doesn't mean you won't make a whole bunch of new mistakes.
Sunday 7 February, 8:30pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after at SBS World Movies)
Tuesday 9 February, 1:25am on SBS World Movies
Spain, Mexico, 2010
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring: Javier Bardem, Eduard Fernández