Biutiful is the gritty but moving tale of Uxbal (Javier Bardem) who lives in Barcelona with his two children in a run down apartment. He is separated from his wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), who is bipolar and her unreliability has seen custody of the children given to Uxbal. Uxbal makes ends meet by helping immigrants find work and he has a vested interest in a warehouse where Chinese immigrants live and work but in horrendous conditions, something Uxbal is trying to remedy. Uxbal also has the ability to talk to the dead and sometimes earns extra by being a conduit between the dead and their grieving families.
Uxbal’s life is turned upside down when he is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and only has months to live. Withdrawing from all around him, Uxbal knows he must sort his affairs and secure the future of his children, but it is no easy matter with Marambra trying to reconcile with her family and many of the immigrants Uxbal is helping so often being at risk of deportation. The question is can Uxbal die knowing his children are safe and that they both have a future?
Biutiful covers many angles with Uxbal’s personal deterioration as his cancer battles the chemotherapy that is trying to preserve his life for a few months more. Uxbal’s family is a key area as well, along with the poorly paid Chinese immigrants that Uxbal works tirelessly to provide for. The streets of Barcelona tell many a tale of struggle in Biutiful as everyone tries to get by any away they can and Uxbal wanders silently amongst the locals, contemplating his untimely end. Oscar-nominated Bardem is wonderful in the lead, his physical and mental decline being well conveyed and so moving to watch.
Given the subject matter, Biutiful is not an easy film to watch at times but it is very well filmed, offering a much bleaker side of Barcelona, one of poverty and struggle that so many will not see. There are some good performances in what is a poignant story but the main plaudits belong to Bardem for his wonderful portrayal of man whose end is coming, though he fights with every last breath to defy it.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)
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