Much like his character in Biutiful who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, Javier Bardem really carries the film. That is not to say that Biutiful is a bad film, merely that Bardem’s powerful performance is indispensable.
Uxbal is a man with numerous responsibilities. Taking care of his two young children, Uxbal also has to contend with illness. Finding work for new immigrants, he also feels a sense of responsibility towards them. On top of this, Uxbal has an unusual relationship with the dead…
Biutiful is a heavy going watch, but one that is rewarding at the same time. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who also co-wrote the script, weaves multiple strands together, all of which involve the central character of Uxbal. The protagonist’s life is complex, but this is what roots the film in reality. Uxbal does not just have one burden; he has many. These different issues overlap, causing much stress in Uxbal’s life.
Biutiful is an individual story, very much concerned with its protagonist. Within this narrative, however, wider social issues are explored. Dominant of these is the problem of illegal immigration in Spain. Biutiful addresses this theme from a variety of viewpoints. The film offers a negative view of the police, and also of some of those who exploit immigrant workers. Nonetheless, Uxbal is one of the people who benefit from the influx of workers, taking a cut for finding them work. Uxbal is never portrayed in a negative light, despite any perceived exploitation on his part. He appears to genuinely care for the welfare of the Chinese and African workers, and is on good terms with everyone. Uxbal’s position seems as odds with the police officer who takes bribes, for example. While the officer’s casual racism is obvious, Uxbal seems to have more respect.
Art direction is the film is good, creating a grimy look to the Barcelona locations. Colours are earthy in much of the film, contrasting effectively with the white of the opening sequence. Iñárritu uses numerous tracking shots following Uxbal walking, which give the impression of the character’s lengthy metaphorical journey.
Javier Bardem is excellent as Uxbal. He is intense at times and reflective at others, but always wholly inhabiting the role. Maricel Álvarez puts in a great performance as Marambra, Uxbal’s bipolar wife. The pair work well together; their scenes are quite powerful.
Biutiful occasionally feels slow, but overall is a rich drama. Bardem certainly deserves recognition for this challenging role.