I rarely believe that a film deserves five stars, but I would argue that on this particular occasion, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful (2010) deserves every one of them. As a director, Iñárritu is known for his deft skills at storytelling, proving himself in previous films such as Babel (2006) and 21 Grams (2003). Biutiful takes a different approach, focusing on one character’s story rather than having multiple plots that converge.
The story follows Uxbal, who is coping with raising two children with his bi-polar wife, as he navigates the moral complexities of being involved in the petty criminal underworld of Barcelona and being diagnosed with prostrate cancer.
Uxbal is played expertly by Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men (2007)) who provides the perfect weather-worn face and flawlessly delivered emotional portrayal that is truly heart wrenching. Maricel Álvarez plays Uxbal’s wife, Maramba, who suffers with bi-polarity disorder; her representation of the illness shows incredible insight and sympathy to the illness in all its complexity.
This film fearlessly engages with themes of love, parenthood, death, the supernatural and morality. Each one of these themes is woven delicately to create a film about one man’s journey of redemption, never giving into the temptation of heavy handedness. The supernatural theme of the film worked itself into wider motif of redemption in restrained scenes where Uxbal’s character provides comfort at a price for the bereaved. It is in these moments we see the complexity of the morally integral, yet socially hindered nature of Uxbal’s character.
The film constantly suggests the other, a sense of spirituality that is both immense yet gentle. Iñárritu truly has the storyteller’s touch of having multiple complex elements that interweave to the over all narrative, driving the film on and keeping the audience captivated.
Being set in the underworld of Barcelona provides a rare glimpse of the unseen. The plot focuses on the unacknowledged of the city, African immigrants, Chinese sweatshops and the poorer Spanish members of the capital living in the suburbs. The impressive hard-lit cinematography shows off the seedier side of Barcelona perfectly, with shots of overpopulated cheap housing, neon lit streets and famous Cathedrals designed by Gaudi surrounded by cranes.
The only real weakness the film suffers from is that it deserved a tighter edit. Some scenes are superfluous whilst remaining visually entertaining, but the over all narrative driven style compensates more than adequately for this minor weakness.
The DVD comes with the basic extras such as trailers and documentaries. The documentary is really entertaining with extracts of the video diary that the director kept during the filming. Sadly, it is only 20 minutes long. But really there is no need for redundant extras when you have a film of such powerful and simplistic beauty.