March 20, 2013
By: David L. Combest
I’ve wanted to write a review for Biuitful for a long time now. It is a film that is both powerful and raw, a movie that looks into the darkest hours of life and leaves the viewer with a certain emptiness after the credits roll. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who directed such films as 21 Grams & Babel, crafts this film into a piece of cinema art while exploring the depth of human experience.
The film follows the protagonist Uxbal (Javier Bardem), who is a single father living in a rundown apartment in Barcelona. He makes a living in the black market as a manager for an underground operation that uses immigrants from China to make counterfeit designer goods to sell to street vendors. He is separated from his wife, Marambra, who suffers from bipolar disorder and debilitating alcoholism. Uxbal is diagnosed with prostate cancer at the start of the film and this diagnosis affects the equilibrium of life and death that quickly becomes the focus of the film. Uxbal struggles to find a home for his children knowing they can’t live with their morally questionable uncle or their mentally unstable mother. Uxbal also suffers from guilt, blaming himself for the death of the immigrants when the gas heaters he bought to make their small sleeping quarters more comfortable went out, killing the immigrants during the night.
The movie is a drama that explores many themes that are found within life. Mortality is the major theme in the film, guiding Uxbal’s every move, as well as an underlying theme of ethics presenting Uxbal with issues with each new situation he faces. Despite the fact that Uxbal works for the black market, he is a very ethical man. Because Uxbal works for a demanding boss, he does not have much control over the treatment of the immigrants; however, he tries to make their lives easier. Each character’s life style motivates their own actions, along with the themes of morality and ethics, these themes and life styles together create the film’s rich and complex experience. Marambra’s struggles parallel Uxbal’s, though in different but equally devastating ways, thus showing that disease eats away at people in diverse ways.
What this film doesn’t do is create a definite good versus evil message where the audience is rooting for Uxbal and poetic justice to ensure the moral code. It’s true that Uxbal can be seen as a moralist, but a moralist with a warped sense of ethics, after all, his work is illegal. No, this film is a work the presents the characters as what they are…human. This is not to be confused with the idea that to be human is to error and thus one can pass through life unscathed. , It is clear that Uxbal must get his affairs in order and deal with his guilt knowing he has broken his principles before he can be considered truly a righteous and good, albeit flawed person.
All too often do we see a film that either projects characters as good versus evil or simply morally ambiguous and not accountable for their actions, but what this film does beautifully is present a message of despite our cultural and social environments “We’re trying the best we can in any situation”. This attitude is apparent in characters such as Uxbal’s brother Tito, who is not entirely “good” or “bad”, but just a man trying to balance his way of life with the way he wants to live.
From a film making point of view, Biuitful is filled with Mise-en-scène, the arrangements of scenes and properties to create a visually crafted whole, that helps the film progress in a way that evokes emotions from the audience. A masterful work of cinema, Biutiful is a film that is to be appreciated for its depiction of humanity.