“Biutiful” is the new film from Alejandro González Iñárritu, staring Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a likable man who deals in the underground economy of Barcelona. While the film is confusing at points and deals with some mature subject matter, the title appropriately describes Bardem’s performance in the film.
Set in modern day Barcelona, Bardem plays a man dealing with many issues at once: struggling to provide for his two children, worrying about his health and keeping police away from his illegal operation. While the operation isn’t dangerous—he manages illegal immigrants who manufacture knockoff designer handbags—the illegality of it is obvious and is a constant issue for him throughout the film.
His health is a key issue in the film as well, as you find out about 30 minutes in that he has prostate cancer that has spread to his liver and is only given months to live. His own survival is at stake and as a man who provides for his two children without very much help from his ex-wife, dying is just not an option.
Bardem manages this role brilliantly. While very few people would know how to portray a dying man, Bardem did it in a way that makes you feel he has been through it before. His quiet stoicism and strength in facing his fate is a moving performance that is truly remarkable.
The emotional attachment to the character is present throughout the film, even when he gets in trouble with the law and does some other not so admirable things.
Iñárritu, who has directed films such as “21 Grams” and “Babel,” is a tour de force in Spanish language films himself, just like his star Bardem. These two working together created enormous buzz, but this film didn’t seem to live up to all those expectations.
At times during the film, the story turns toward a plot point that is confusing as to why it made the final cut. It appears that Uxbal has a gift in which he can see and talk to the deceased to help them in their passing, but nothing is further explained until the very end of the film.
“Biutiful” also deals with very real situations in forced labor and illegal immigration. The workers who produce the knockoff designer handbags work and live in terrible conditions, and one scene in particular is slightly disturbing in regards to those conditions.
While the film was confusing at times, the production and dialogue was outstanding. Combine those elements with the tense yet elegant piano score and the film did exactly what good films should do, keep you invested from start to finish.
The film has also been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Actor in Bardem and Best Foreign Language Film.
While the film does not stand out in the most memorable way, Bardem was superb. His performance in this film is thoroughly deserving of the nomination and he shows that he is truly one of the greatest actors of our generation.