Biutiful, the new film from writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel), deftly explores the connection between beauty and horror in this world. Juxtaposing each so the other is made more vivid by contrast, Iñárritu portrays deep suffering filmed in rich saturated color and punctuated with moments of hope. The result is a film that, while hard to watch, causes the viewer to reflect on suffering and grace in a broken world.
Javier Bardem (nominated for an Oscar in the role) stars as Uxbal, a ravaged man attempting to raise his two young children in gritty Barcelona. Uxbal earns a living brokering jobs for illegal immigrants. Negotiating between the corrupt and the victimized, he scrapes a bit off the top so he can support his family. The story is broad and complex (a subplot involves Uxbal's ability to communicate with the recently deceased) and follows multiple characters in Uxbal's life.
Early in the film, we learn that Uxbal is terminally ill with cancer. His journey thus becomes a walk to the grave and the question of how his children will survive without him rises to prominence. The children's future seems hopeless in a world where everyone is both a victim and an oppressor. But as the center of this world, Uxbal emerges as a selfless (and flawed) hero who is generous to others. Bardem's performance is delicate and commanding, powerfully portraying a man who is both redemptive and damaged.
Biutiful is a challenging film and should be approached with caution. Rated R, the film portrays explicit sex, language, and drug use. Also challenging is the unrelenting suffering endured by the characters. But the film stares wide-eyed into that suffering and retains a sense of hope. The truth is that sin is a reality and we cannot overcome it on our own. Biutiful immerses itself into that reality and emerges, both horrible and beautiful.