At times, it’s difficult to summarize your thoughts about a specific film. It isn’t because the film is necessarily so good or so bad that it’s beyond words, but because you’re unsure how to feel about said film until the credits finally roll. Biutiful is such a film.
The film revolves around Uxbal, portrayed by Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) sporting a mullet, so expectations are already high. Uxbal has just been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, but isn’t ready to leave this world. His two children are still young and Uxbal feels that their mother, who’s more interested in partaking in promiscuous behavior while dealing with a bipolar disorder, isn’t fit to take care of them. Meanwhile Uxbal supports his family by partnering with both the Chinese and African street merchants that are in the country illegally and together they sell pirated movies and cheap accessories and clothing knockoffs made by Chinese men, women, and children that live in a warehouse sweatshop. To top it off, Uxbal has the ability to communicate with the dead and is called upon to help people who have recently passed to let go and move on to the other side. Although hesitant at first, Uxbal has every intention of getting his affairs in order, reconciling his marriage, and making sure his children have someone to take care of them after he’s gone. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned.
Biutiful, its spelling having a simple yet somewhat brilliant explanation, features a lot of symbolism that will go over most viewers heads. It also is incredibly similar to Ià±à¡rritu’s previous works such as 21 Grams and Babel in both style and tone. The drama is beyond bleak and practically hopeless. The out of tune soundtrack, the rocks Uxbal gives to his children, and the people clutching to the ceiling will leave many scratching their heads. Many ideas seem to be hinted at, but are never fully fleshed out like reflections and shadows moving out of sync from their source. However, the film is driven by Bardem’s emotionally draining, physical, and all around powerful performance.
Some scenes get it right, in particular a scene in the Chinese warehouse right before Uxbal visits his brother’s strip club. It’s the most effective, long-lasting, and memorable scene in the movie and really makes the entire film worthwhile. Dialogue is equally strong, providing many memorable quotes like, “It’s dangerous to trust a man who’s hungry.” In that same breath though, what was up with the sound? It was like it was purposely terrible at certain points in the film. At times, it seemed significant to showcase the sound of the characters’ heartbeats, but just felt sloppy the one or two other times it occurred.
Biutiful is an unusual drama that is both confusing and ridiculously intriguing. A vigorously passionate performance by Javier Bardem may not be enough to save what is otherwise a sometimes mindboggling and hellacious journey through the eyes of what seems like the most unlucky man in the world. What’s bizarre is that the film does give you a strange sense of hope — no matter how bad you think your life currently is or was, this film proves that it can always be worse even if the presentation is more than a little mentally and emotionally exhausting. Most notable is that even though the movie leans more to the unconventional side while being downright depressing, it will make a long-lasting impression and force you to contemplate scenes and occurrences in the film days after you’ve seen it.