Javier, oh, Javier! Your new movie broke my heart. In Alejandro González Iñárritu’s new film Biutiful, Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a father taking care of everyone, except himself. He has two young children, an unmedicated bipolar ex-wife, groups of African and Chinese illegal immigrants who are depending on him for work, and unbeknownst to all of them he is dying of cancer. He also has a talent for speaking with the dead, though not in an “I see dead people” sort of way. He’s just a working class José in Barcelona trying to make ends meet any way he can.

Uxbal’s world is in the margins of modern European society. Chinese laborers live in an icy cold warehouse basement producing knock-off designer bags and pirated DVDs that the Africans sell on the streets. Uxbal is the middleman, taking money from the Chinese business owners, paying off crooked cops, and doing his best to make sure everyone gets something out of it all. He’s no angel, but he has a heart.

A recurring theme in Biutiful is the missing father. One of Uxbal’s Senegalese salesmen friends is deported, leaving behind a wife and child, and his own children are taken care of by a Chinese immigrant woman who has a small child, but no husband. He doesn’t really remember his own young father who escaped Franco’s police only to die in Mexico from pneumonia. And so his imminent death weighs even more heavily on him. Everything he does is to try and make sure his kids won’t forget him and that they will be taken care of when he is gone. And that is a heart-breakingly impossible task.

This is Bardem’s movie and he is AMAZING! His Uxbal is being eaten alive both physically and emotionally and he embodies that pain in the most unsentimental way. When he smiles, you cannot help but smile with him, and you cannot help but ache when his heart aches.

Biutiful is decidedly not for everyone. It is very rough, and very European in style. Alejandro González Iñárritu directed Babel, but this film is more akin to his earlier and unquestioningly brilliant Amores Perros. You must be prepared for some very depressing subject matter. I cried several times during Biutiful. But I think it worth seeing for Javier Bardem’s painfully honest performance alone.

One thought on “Biutiful”
  1. I generally love watching Javier Bardem, but I just couldn’t get past the first 30 minutes of this one. I blame my mainstream sensibilities. And the fact that the movie is in Spanish with English subtitles. So you really need to focus. Arty Chick is way better at that than me! So if you’re a fan of foreign films, definitely check this one out. But if you’re not… consider yourself forewarned. Javier is a great actor, but this is not a film for the masses.

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