Alejandro González Iñárritu didn’t make a narratively broken movie, after three previous movies in which he used that technique of film making. Nor does he has many different characters or storylines woven into one picture, brought together by one unfortunate incident. The themes explored in the death trilogy of Inarritu are explored here, too, but with a different style, a different setting.
Biutiful tells the story of a man named Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem. Uxbal’s life has many aspects. He touches the lives of many people, and some after life, too. He sometimes work as a medium between the living and the dead. He finds work for the Chinese immigrants, at the cost of money. He pays off the cops so that they might not wander into the way off African street vendors. This is his professional life. On the personal front, he is separated from his wife, Marambra (played by Maricel Alvarez), who is bipolar and hence a risk to herself and those around her. He has two children, a boy and a girl. On top of all this, he is pissing blood and is informed that he is suffering from a terminal disease and has few months to live. If this isn’t the setting of a depressing film, I don’t know what is.
The driving force behind the movie is that what will Uxbal do, now that he has so little time left. If you know how much of your life remains on this earth, what would you do with the last days. Uxbal faces the same question. He starts to tie all his lose ends. He is frightened by the thought that his children will have to live without a father. He doesn’t want to leave a debt on the living. The movie does not explore that why he was involved with these things, what were the circumstances that drove him to deal with illegal businesses, but what he does with them now he knows the end is near. His actions has consequences, as he is fully awards, and that is what gives the movie its strength.
Inarritu here gives us a highly flawed hero, a superbly human person. Uxbal is a criminal, sure, but his motives aren’t bad. He does what he has to do in order to provide for his family. He is deeply flawed, but then who isn’t. Inarritu incites sympathy in the viewer by such things. Making Uxbal a highly sympathetic character could have gone either way, for good or for bad, but luckily for Inarritu, it went for the good, mainly because of the excellent casting of Javier Bardem. Bardem, as Uxbal, emanates such an emotional quality that it is hard not to feel bad for him. His Uxbal is the perfect example of a person driven by the circumstances who does what he has to do in order to ensure his and his family’s survival.
A turn in the movie comes when cheap heaters brought by Uxbal early on for the Chinese immigrants malfunctions, hence killing all of them. At this point the pain in Bardem’s eyes feels so real, so close that it seems as if Bardem as become one with Uxbal. That is the high point of Bardem’s acting in the movie. This moment in his life serves as a reminder to him that what he does leaves effects on all around him. He feels guilt. He seeks repentance. His health is deteriorating. All in all, his already grim life becomes more grim.
The final act of the movie is the best one. After the viewer has sat through almost 120 minutes, looking at Uxbal’s world, now he sees that how he exits from this world. His last acts are those what every father would do. He spends time with his children, celebrates his daughter’s birthday and says his goodbyes to them, although they are unaware what is happening.
Inarritu captures the spirit the last few months in the life of a person living in Barcelona with such lyrical beauty that it is hard not to be awed. Supplemented by the beautiful score and the eye catching cinematography, the movie is a wonder that unyields itself slowly, like a snake slowly coming out of its hole. The performances, apart from Bardem, are commendable and the actors make them believable and real. Although Inarritu’s death trilogy has concluded, but this movie, one which explores the themes of redemption, guilt, spiritualy awakening and death with such aptness merits a high place in Inarritu’s resume. This is probably his most straightforward and most poignant film. A thought provoking study of human mind in the face of death. Something that all of us have to face, Inarritu suggests, some sooner than later.