Written by Robert W Monk
24 Monday 24th January 2011

An unsettling and sad film; it shows a nightmare world few people know and that few would want to. This Barcelona - so different to the party capital so beloved of pleasure seekers -  is a land of muted greys and blues, a purgatory for the halfway dead, only brought to life by violence, argument and recriminations. It is a challenging film but one that gets under the skin, creating nagging doubts at the back of the mind for weeks afterwards. Pleasurable? No. But it is a profound experience and an intensely brave work that demands attention. 


Javier Bardem picked up the best actor award at Cannes for his portrayal of cancer stricken Uxbal, a provider of poorly paid and highly dangerous work for illegal immigrants and it’s not difficult to see why. It is a startling and mesmerizing performance. The complex personality of Uxbal struggling with internal and external conflicts while supporting two young children and a bi-polar wife is brought powerfully, sometimes uncomfortably, into focus.

Bardem tells the story of Uxbal’s pain and fear of death, his guilt over exploiting the immigrants he proudly claims to help and his sadness for his lost father who escaped Franco and only returned as a corpse through his magnificently expressive dark eyes. Truly, Bardem can sell a scene on a look or a glance.

While there is little doubt that the film is anchored around its star, Biutiful also benefits strongly from an excellent supporting cast, especially Marciel Álvarez as Uxbal’s unstable wife Marambra. Her wild eyes and tiny almost imperceptible twitching movements perfectly capture the flickering passions and desperate manipulations going on under the sound and fury of her irrational psyche.

The cinematography too, from González Iñárritu regular Rodrigo Prieto, is wonderfully delivered, picking up sombre abstract beauty in the darkness and deprivation of the city’s tortured life and death. Haunting images seem to directly impinge themselves upon the subconscious as Uxbal slips further and further into despair and ever closer to oblivion. A surreal, almost metaphysical series of scenes with him communing with a spirit world only add to the unusual and eerie nature of the piece.

At what could be seen as a 147 minute sermon on the nature of death and the human capacity to find beauty in ugliness and squalor, Biutiful, will no doubt be a turn off for some. True, it should be approached with caution but the long running time and tricky subject matter should be no barrier for what is a remarkable and compelling work of cinema. Audiences coming away will feel as though they’ve witnessed something horrible, beautiful and real.

Biutiful will be released on 28 January 2011, and you can visit the official website at


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