More often than not, this protracted and flawed Spanish drama is affecting as the notion of mortality inspires a treacherous road to redemption.
Biutiful (which has earned a Best Foreign-Language Feature Golden Globe nod) stars the versatile Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, No Country For Old Men) and is directed and co-written by the talented Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel). It can be looked at as an intriguing character study with plenty of emotional sparks along its winding road.
Bardem is a commanding presence in a picture that, for many, may overextend its bounds. His Barcelona-based underworldly Uxbal toils his way through an operation whereby African immigrants retail knock-off items produced by similarly illegal Chinese workers in unknown manufacturing facilities.
His clandestine business helps to provide for his young children (Guillermo Estrella and Hanaa Bouchaib) while looking after manic depressive unwell ex-wife and whore Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). She's having intimate relations with Uxbal's brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez) who happens to be working with Uxbal on their father's burial plot.
If the set-up is too wretched, Inarritu the filmmaker is able to display some mordant flair when it comes to the personal interaction using a gritty, subtly edgy visual palette. The filmmaking, with some striking lensing, allows for a "gifted" Uxbal (similar to Hereafter) to navigate through a wrenching period in his life. And, Bardem dextrously internalizes a tricky, flawed, increasingly stressed, yet devoted family man, coping with the past and planning for those he cherishes most.
The underlying plotting uses issues of immigration and harassment featuring a couple (Cheikh Ndiaye and Diaryatou Daff) and an employer and an assistant (Cheng Taisheng and Luo Jin) touching on Uxbal's circle of fear. Maybe like intense policing with some not on the up-and-up, the structure is a little too intrusive on the intimate power of what has the ability to be a wry, moving excursion through everyday life.
The purposely misspelled title may not decisively holdup under its spiritual umbra and haggard circumstances, but in the end it is as positive as it is plaintive. If the fateful, tainted reality challenges the chance for love and forgiveness, Bardem probably grasped some elements from his physically static character in the more allegorical and poignant The Sea Inside. His unhappy, yet communicative Uxbal is finally conditioned to recover what is in the abyss of his soul.