Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Starring Javier Bardem, Maricel Alvarez, Eduard Fernández.
The Oscar award-nominated performance of Javier Bardem about a psychic man dying of cancer, struggling with an alcoholic wife and two kids, overseeing a sweatshop and product piracy on the streets of Barcelona and counting his sometimes ill-gotten gains. Oh and of course bribing the Spanish police!
Good ol’ Mr Penelope Cruz just had a brand new son, has been nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars and may be up for a villain role in the next Bond film. Life’s gotta be good for him right now.
The expectations are high getting into this film. Bardem of course is always a delight to watch. Mexican director Iñárritu (21 Grams, Bable and Amores Perros) is the master of interweaving different stories and you can always expect something dark and gritty from him. In Biutiful, he delivers that in dollops.
Bardem plays Uxbal and from the point he pees blood at the start of the film, you know he’s not going to make it to the end. And apart from grappling with his mortality while ‘talking to the dead’ to make some money, he’s also raising two kids and going back and forth with his estranged alcoholic wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). And he’s supplying Chinese illegal immigrants to a sweatshop that produces brand knock-offs to sell on the streets.
Uxbal’s woes grow deeper and darker through the film as his health deteriorates. He’s desperately seeking ways out of his financial misery and for his son and daughter to have a stable family and future. He does die peacefully in the end but somehow his ordeal hasn’t touched you. Because inspite of Bardem’s deeply stirring emotional range, at times doleful and then extremely angry and violent, the film just ambles along serving up a slew of characters who we should feel sorry for but don’t.
But I must say two things. One, Iñárritu showed me a side of Barcelona I hadn’t seen when I visited. His version was like a ghetto in New York with none of the picture-perfect beauty that captivated me about the place. Two, I think Maricel Alvarez, who plays his wife in the film, was quite good. In fact, I preferred her performance over Bardem’s.