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The Independent Critic

Javier Bardem, Cheikh Ndiaye, Cheng Tai Shen, Diaryatou Daff, Eduard Fernandez
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Screenplay), Writers Armando Bo & Nicolas Giacobone
Rated R
147 Mins.
Focus Features
"The Making of Biutiful" documentary
• Theatrical trailer

 "Biutiful" Review 
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Academy Award winner Javier Bardem captured the Best Actor prize at this past year's Cannes Film Festival for Biutiful, writer/director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest near masterpiece and further proof that Bardem is easily one of the best actors working today whether that be in Hollywood or on the indie scene.

Biutiful is the story of Uxbal, a man who has lived a life defined on the wrong side of the tracks who discovers he has but two months left to live and sets out to sort out his sordid life for the sake of his family. Because Biutiful is not merely another Hollywood studio mass production, Uxbal is neither a sympathetic hero nor even a particularly involving man. Uxbal has spent his life doing wrong, by himself and his loved ones, and neither Bardem nor Inarritu shy away from the ugliness he has left in his path. To call Biutiful a dark film would be an understatement, yet it is a darkness that is simply mesmerizing to behold much like a dark, starry night when you look up at the sky and marvel at the light that pierces the darkness.

Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams), despite occasionally allowing Biutiful to become a bit heavy-handed and unnecessarily melodramatic, has crafted a film beautifully captures the duality of what it means to be a human being. While it at times seems that Inarritu is a little too sold on Uxbal's goodness and too often ignores the wrongs that will never be righted, he has also created the perfect vehicle for Bardem to put on full display the wonder that is his acting. How many actors could truly portray both the evil, self-serving Uxbal with such vulnerability and heart? Bardem proved in No Country for Old Men that he could portray evil, but here he stretches both himself and audiences by turning Uxbal into a man who can never be firmly defined as either good or bad.

That is what it means to be fully human.

Uxbal runs a sweat shop with Chinese immigrants, sells pirated movies and even serves as a faux psychic while running constantly in circles that are less than desirable. Yet, Uxbal is also a devoted and loyal father who has accepted the responsibility for his children while their partying mother (Maricel Alvarez) has taken up with his brother, Tito (Eduard Fernandez).  He hires a Sengalese mother (Diaryatou Daff) to care for his children while he attempts to prepare a life for them without their father, a journey he undergoes without telling them that he has been diagnosed with rapidly spreading prostate cancer that leaves him with two months to live.

If all of this sounds like a downer, well, it is a downer. It is a heartfelt, beautifully constructed, heartbreaking and, at times, difficult to watch downer that is filled to the brim with life and love and the occasionally messed up choices we make along our path. Uxbal is in many ways an anti-hero, a man who does so many things wrong we ought to hate him... yet, it is impossible to hate him.

Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is absolutely stark and stunning, while Gustavo Santaolalla's original music adds to the film a haunting background without ever becoming too intrusive or overwhelming. As is always true of an Inarritu film, production credits are top notch.

Biutiful is a Spanish language film (with subtitles), likely limiting the film to the more hardcore arthouse audiences who will appreciate Inarritu's devotion to authenticity and truth. While Biutiful is a flawed masterpiece, aren't we all?

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic