Alejandro González Iñárritu’s newest Spanish film “Biutiful” is a lesson in depression and sorrow. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a father of two, and the husband to a woman who has many problems, not the least being her battle with Bipolar Disorder. Uxbal supports his family via seedy means in the black market and illegal immigrant workers circuit.
“Biutiful” is not a beautiful film; it labors in the dirty, ugly side of humanity. The film takes place in Barcelona, but the audience never sees the lovely side of the city. Instead, the focus is on cramped, heatless rooms, stark apartments with peeling paint, sinks overfilled with filthy dishes and people trying desperately to survive.
Bardem gives an impressive performance as a man consigned to the dregs. Unfortunately, Bardem cannot save the film from becoming bogged down in depression. The film is called “Biutiful,” but lacks a significant amount of beauty, almost as if the director is obsessed with making audiences cry. The only real warmth found in the film concerns Uxbal and his children. These scenes are wonderful but short-lived. Through the course of the film we discover that Uxbal is dying and there is much to be done to get his affairs situated. Unfortunately at every turn he is met with death and heartache.
One aspect of the film that should have been given more attention is the power that Uxbal possesses; he can see and speak with the spirits of the dead. Through this power, he is able to offer peace to unsettled souls and the families they have left behind. Not nearly enough time is set aside in the film to explore this plot point; instead, the film spends far too much time on subplots that only add to the melancholy tone.
All in all, this was a well-acted film that wastes too much time getting to where it is meant to be. Even the wonderful performance of Bardem cannot save the film from leaving an empty feeling in its wake. Take plenty of tissues and a double dose of antidepressants before watching this film.
Story by Chuck Heffner