Sunday, February 6, 2011

Biutiful - In a world anything but.

What is the essence of life? Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest spanish language feature 'Biutiful', misspelt by a child, touches on this very subject. He sets his movie in the underbelly of Barcelona, takes us into his central character Uxbal's world, which is filthy, reeking of poverty, sad, almost claustrophobic. Uxbal, heartbreakingly portrayed by Javier Bardem, is a single father of two with an ex wife who is bipolar. She beats her son, is prone to extreme mood swings and totally unfit to take care of the children. 
Uxbal has terminal prostrate cancer. He makes a living by being a go between for illegal immigrants hawking fake designer ware on streets, working in sweatshops, on construction sites and living in inhuman conditions, locked up in a cold basement and woken up early morning to carry on a hard days work, mother and babies not excepted. Its almost akin to slavery. Uxbal feels for these people and tries to negotiate their betterment, even though he always keeps his share. After all he has a family to feed and rent to pay and time is running out on him. So, he makes deals with the police to see the other direction and with the construction company for whom these people are cheap labor.
He also has the ability to see dead people, who still have something unfinished in this world. They literally hang on ceilings waiting for him to understand them. He aids them. This is his gift. So, this is Uxbal's world and we are caught in it for almost 2 and a half hours. We accompany him on his journey through the final few months of life. We meet his brother, witness the tragic story of the immigrant with a baby who takes care of his children after school, the man and his lover who bring the illegals into Barcelona and say that the life given to them here is far better than what they came from.
Javier Bardem as Uxbal in 'Biutiful'
 There is so much misery in the world Uxbal inhabits. There is no hope for the people who inhabit it. Uxbal knows the end is near, but he has so much to do. He tries reconciling with his ex wife in hope that she is now completely cured and can take care of the kids. Alas, he is mistaken. He wants to have enough money so that the kids can have a roof over their heads. Life has truly come down to the basics. But, finally what he really wants, is to be remembered by his children, to not be forgotten. We feel the pain of this man. There is a ghastly sequence where something he plans, for the benefit of the illegals, goes disastrously wrong. We want to escape his pain, the misery of his actions, but there is no escape like there is none for the people in his world.
I love Inarritu's movies. Amores Perros and 21 grams effected me deeply, almost spiritually. Babel, not so much. It seemed a gimmicky extension of his former works and, the non linear format of storytelling and playing with time, so unique in his previous works, lost its sheen. Thankfully, Biutiful is linear and brutally straight in its narration. We enter Uxbal's world upon the detection of his cancer and are kept in it till the inevitable. Innaritu, while showing us the horrors in the underbelly of a big city, also shows us the kindness of the human heart, the dreams of these people whom even God seems to have forsaken. There is a touching scene where Uxbal scolds his son at the dinner table for not eating properly in a gentlemanly fashion, all while we are witness to the dirty almost uninhabitable living and kitchen area. Another has an African woman, who is in dire straits, do something that tells us that even in the worst of conditions and circumstances, kindness and good can reside in the human heart.
Javier Bardem, who plays Uxbal, disappears into the skin of his characters pain, the despair of Uxbal mirrored in his eyes. Its all in the eyes, this performance. The pain, sadness, awareness of the futility of it all yet having to go on…..they are all found in the eyes of Javier Bardem. Even in the couple of scenes where he dare feel some joy and smile, the eyes alway have pain lurking in the background. This has to be one of the most honest performances, I have come across.
'Biutiful' shows us a world that is anything but. Its a grim reality out there. Leaving the theatre I was desperate for fresh air, to get out of that world I saw on screen. And then I realized, for how many that world is their reality, not just a 150 minute long feature. And yet they hope and want the best for their children, want their prints remaining in the sands of time, to be remembered. Isn't that ultimately the essence of life?

Final Take: Watch it if you can stomach life in its very direst. If you can, the movie will stay with you for a long time and Bardem's sad eyes will continue to haunt long after you have left his world. 

Playing at theatres and nominated for Oscar in two categories: Foreign Language film and Actor in a Leading Role 2011

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