Directed By Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, and Hanaa Bouchaib
Rated R, now playing
Watch the trailer. I almost cried.
Biutiful is another painfully terrific Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) film: powerful themes, heavy content, and emotionally consuming messages. Though in a similar category, Biutiful is no Crash or Pan’s Labyrinth, for it is a work of genuine realism. Intervals of anxiety and floods of thought-provoking visual input and dialogue, explicit or subtle, do not funnel into a single larger-than-life climax in the end; they simply flow through with constant flux.
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is an influential figure in the lower class and the underground business community in Barcelona, a medium in his religious community, the spouse of a bipolar drug addict, and a father of two. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the movie captures his attempt to put his affairs in order during the last fraction of his life. Despite the grim tone, the love Uxbal has for his children and people around him illuminates Biutiful with hope and heart-warming optimism.
Biutiful is a commentary on capitalism, not only in the context of the film but also in the larger world, in growing cities and grown countries. The story of Uxbal, his family, and his friends is a true-to-life portrayal of the impact of complex social mechanisms on humanity wrapped in adversity and destructiveness.
Poverty, immigrants’ problems, corruption, and bribery are a tangled network of problems. Morality is no longer the important question, for these individuals have been forced into passivity by their socioeconomic status. After all, they are not in the competition — they are the result of the competition. In a world driven by survival of the fittest, selfishness is no longer marked by its morality or lack thereof, but rather its innate existence in every human being. Brutality is inevitable, sometimes put in people’s hands to pass to one another.
But what keeps some people from becoming dehumanized?
All characters in Biutiful are rounded, both good and evil, with conflicting values and questions. At times, they are forced to disobey some internal principles of being human in order to obey other principles or external conditions. Every character, especially Uxbal, is faced with a dilemma: to stay human or to treat others with humanity, or to buckle under external pressures.
Iñárritu also explores humanity at the individual level: human psychology, philosophy, and ethics through the themes of the afterlife, miracle, and connection with the dead. Uxbal seeks spiritual refuge from a fortune-teller, who symbolizes nature and the universe. He is guided by metaphysics and life philosophy in the form of faith. He is a man full of spirit: he is human.
Beauty does not always take its ideal form, for it is human, fallible and intricate.
The misspelling of the word “beautiful” comes from a small scene in which Uxbal’s daughter asks him to help her spell the word so that she can write it down next to her drawing. His illiteracy is a defect, but he does not let it prevent him from responding to his daughter’s request. He does the best he can as a father, as a person. He tries.
“Biutiful” also refers to a small character in the film. Like everyone else, she is a round character, but also a representation of hope and human kindness, a beautiful person against the chaotic and disintegrating backdrop, despite the brutality she experiences.
Among the heartbreaking or horrifying scenes and poignant cinematography, there are moments of humor and delight. Towards the beginning of the film, Uxbal’s children complain about the monotony of their meals. When Uxbal asks them what they would like to eat, they name all sorts of wondrous foods. Uxbal sits down at the table with some bread, milk, and sugar. The children giggle and let their father guide them through their imagination. “Here’s your ice cream,” he says, as he pours a mountain of sugar into his daughter’s bowl.
The humor in Biutiful is not at all dark or cynical; it is pure and honest. Perhaps it is not even humor, for it does not intend to make us laugh; it naturally evokes laughter as we relate to these characters. However, the smiles on the faces in the audience often turn into frowns within seconds. Biutiful surprises you — it makes you lapse into fear and despair, then lets you breathe again for a while — perhaps by making you chuckle like a child at a joke about a booger — before hitting you with another scene of Uxbal urinating blood. Whether dealing with suffering or rejoicing, Biutiful tells it frankly.
Some people find the film not extraordinarily depressing, while others feel emotionally exhausted and crushed. In any case, Biutiful is still worth watching, and its two Oscar nominations — for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor in a Leading Role — are testament to this fact. Bardem won an Oscar in 2007 for No Country for Old Men, and it would not be surprising if he won another for Biutiful. Iñárritu is backed by big-name directors Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También; Paris, Je T’Aime).
Literally coming back to reality after seeing the film feels like figuratively walking away from it. As the door of the theater closes behind me, I shut my eyes to close out the whole picture of the world and feel content again. However, as I move away in space and time from my point of contact with Biutiful, the experience still remains more real than my everyday perception.
Biutiful depicts only one in thousands of cases of dysfunction at an institutional and individual level. Unfortunately, the people who are responsible for and who have the potential to solve these problems are often the ones most unaware of and seemingly uninvolved with the type of world Uxbal is living in. I hope that none of us happens to be one of them.