As I sat in a cosy arthouse cinema in Soho sipping my pint of cider I was unsure what to expect from this film. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu takes a different approach from his multi-narrative style (which is evident in 21 Grams and Babel) and instead focuses solely on Uxbal (Bardem) a hustler who shuffles between corrupt police, Senegalese street hawkers and Chinese sweatshop owners making his living. But Uxbal’s persona of a strong man, due to his line of work, is overshadowed with hurting and vulnerable feelings. His life at home is an uphill struggle caring for is two kids as their bipolar, alcoholic mother comes and goes. This is also exacerbated with the news that he has cancer and is only has a couple of months to live and with this news tries to right the wrongs for the sake of his children. Not only that but he has to live with the burden that he can communicate with the dead and attends funerals to pass on messages to grieving relatives. At first this supernatural theme seems a bit confusing and unnecessary but as the film develops, it draws on the relationship Uxbal hold with his ‘spiritual advisor’ as she is the only one that he opens up to and shows his true feelings. During his last months of life there are glimmers of hope for all the characters he tries to help. He moves back in with his ex-wife Marambra (Maricel Álvarez) for the sake of his kids and they share an emotional moment as the family joke and bond over the melted ice cream. Uxbal then allows one Senegalese immigrant and her baby to move into the old flat rent free, supplies heaters for the Chinese workers living in the basement as well as trying to get them work on his brothers construction site. But in the end his hard work shatters into a thousand pieces as everything he tries to mend backlashes with everyone being worse off than when he started to no fault of his own.
Biutiful is a film surrounded in bleakness and depression which is contrasted by being set in Barcelona, as it has wonderful architecture from the likes of Gaudí, which would be a filmmakers dream to shoot. However this beauty is never really touched upon reemphasising the gritty under belly which lies within this city and even though Uxbal is involved with so many deeds, he is still isolated because of his inevitable death. Every building we enter is a cramped, dingy struggle for life with the characters trying to make the best out of their shitty situation. But it is also tiny delicate aspects of the film which makes it outstanding; reflections in mirrors being off synch and the sound which is all the point of view of Uxbal. It is a hard film to watch because of its contents and makes for a very uncomfortable viewing by giving such a realistic insight to Barcelona street life. Javier Bardem plays this role perfectly with recognition from Cannes Film Festival, giving him the award for best actor and has also been nominated for an Oscar. It’s not a film you would want to watch again and again as its message will stick with you for a long time after watching it.