This is the movie I was looking forward to, simply because this is the first movie of Alejandro González Iñarritu’s without Arriaga’s writing. The film is on the heavy side it depicts some brutal reality that these characters live in everyday. The topics are cancer, child abuse, drugs, exploited Chinese workers and more. However, the upside to this story is the light that comes out of the darkness, something I would say is a change of pace from Inarritu's two previous films, Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams. I would say that Gonzalez Inarritu's films belong to, maybe unbeknown to him, the great tradition of Mexican melodramas. The dramatically sad and hopeless tone reminds of classic Mexican 1940’s films from Ismael Rodríguez’s movies like the Pepe El Toro trilogy played by the famous Pedro Infante. It is OK for Mexican cinema culture to see people suffer so much. I know moviegoers from other cultures that cannot understand this need for the dramatic tone.
“Biutiful” which is “beautiful” phonetically spelled in Spanish depicting an almost beautiful reality that the characters seemed impelled to achieve, figuratively and literally. The film is a soulful and spiritual journey centering on Uxbal, played by Javier Bardem, he already won the best actor award at Cannes, he deserves it but I am beginning to dislike his persona along with bad actress and wife Penelope Cruz, but that is beside the point, sorry. Uxbal is a contradictive and hypocritical character with similar responsibilities like so many of us. Currently, his primary responsibility is to take care of his two kids. For the most part, raising them on his own following his separation from their mess bi-polar mother, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez).
Uxbal fights for the rights of the underprivileged all while benefiting from their exploitation. You can see he's tormented, but that isn't all he has to contend with. Each new day could call for fighting for better living conditions for the Chinese immigrants being exploited as cheap labor, but at the same time accepting payment for freeing the souls of the recently deceased or paying the cops to stay off the backs of African street vendors.
He has recently discovered he has prostate cancer, which causes the fatherly instincts in him to emerge to an even greater level. After all, not only does he play father to his children he must also look out for the lives of the people he's been caring for, and making money off of, on a daily basis, which is the duality of his character.
“Biutiful” is an exploration of one man's emotional journey and for as much as death guides the majority of this story, it's the preservation and caring for the life that will remain. González Inarritu has dealt with this piece brilliantly and it was in the final 30 minutes or so that he finally started pulling us out of the deep depression the film seems to go deeper and deeper, this where this hopeless culture that I was referring to is most evident. Never before has a birthday celebration been such a welcomed on screen moment, and once the candles are lit this film goes from being a real downer to a magnificent feature, this where most critics coincide and I agree with them.
The emotional range Bardem has as an actor was tested in every scene and he absolutely never comes off as someone trying to hard. The same can be said for the rest of the cast, including Ige (Diaryatou Daft), an African woman whose husband is being deported back to Senegal leaving her and her child homeless and alone. Uxbal lets her live in his apartment for free. Daft lifts plenty of heavy weight in the film's final moments and does so with an effortless smile helping the film dig its way out of the dark and into the light. She is the ray of hope of this dark scenario.
The film will be enjoyed primarily by the art house crowds everywhere it is shown. This is a great film that confirms the great cinema that contemporary Mexican directors are capable of creating as much as the Golden Era ones did.