Foreign Film February: Biutiful (2010)


Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a decent man living a bad life. He’s a low-level criminal living in a shabby apartment in Barcelona. He manages a group of street vendors who sell knock-off Gucci bags and other fake products. He’s also in charge of some Chinese illegals who make those goods. He’s exploiting humans for profit, but he also seems to care, at least a little. When he realizes the Chinese immigrants are cold, sleeping together in a rundown basement he procures them some heaters (the cheapest he can buy, a decision that will haunt him later in the film). He seems to love his young children deeply. He tries to be kind to his ex-wife who sometimes works as a prostitute, and is bipolar, but his tolerance has limits.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu keeps things close to the streets. This isn’t your tourist brochure of Barcelona. The city is dirty, corrupt, full of violence, and a struggle just to survive. Uxbal is a decent man, and Bardem’s portrayal of him is sympathetic, but he also makes a living off the backs of the downtrodden. The film gives him cancer, and a short time to live which makes him even more sympathetic. The plot is really about him trying to put his life in order.

It is also mostly a bore. It drags on for over two hours and the movie never gives us enough reason to stick with it for that long. I’ve enjoyed some of Iñárritu’s films, but this one is a misfire. Barden gives a great performance, his face is so full of hurt and resignation, but otherwise, I found it a bit of a slog.

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