Uxbal, the protagonist of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest masterpiece, lives in a subculture that’s almost entirely separated from the societal practices most of us negotiate daily. Health insurance? Cash machine? Such things are absent from Biutiful, even though Uxbal, who makes a living on illegal immigrant labor, lives in Barcelona. Iñárritu stays incredibly close to Uxbal, who is played by Bardem as if his life depended on it, taking his viewpoint and taking us along with him.
Whatever the moral and ethical implications of Uxbal’s dealings on a larger scale, he’s clearly trying to do the right thing within the limits of his individual world: taking his children to school, helping people in need, clumsily trying to negotiate a workable relationship with his ex-wife for the sake of their children and his own sanity. Everything is complicated by something Uxbal keeps to himself – the fact that he is dying.
As in previous films, Iñárritu is interested in the interconnectedness of people’s lives, the global upheavals that throw them together in fateful couplings and the many languages they speak (here, it’s the Chinese and African immigrants Uxbal provides with jobs – or exploits cruelly, depending on your point of view). But in Biutiful, everything circles slowly around that immovable reality that is death. And yet surprisingly, it’s in no way depressing, because Iñárritu holds on to his belief that despite people’s clear imperfections, there might just be hope for mankind yet.
BIUTIFUL | (Mexico, USA 2010) Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu with Javier Bardem, Maricel Àlvarez. Opens March 10