Mexican director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is no stranger to gaining accolades for depicting the layers of society which are not readily promoted by the respective country’s tourist board or even familiar to most of the people living their ordinary lives.
In Amores Perros, Iñárritu teamed up with screen writer Guillermo Arriaga to film three stories that showed the contradictory nature of Mexico City (best film by the Semaine de la Critique at the Festival de Cannes 2000). In 2003, there were nominations for 21 Grams and now Biutiful has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year and Javier Bardem has received an Oscar nomination for his leading role in this movie that looks beyond the surface of a city.
In fact, the popular Barcelona only peeks through occasionally with glimpses of the Sagrada Familia and a race through the popular tourist street Las Ramblas. Instead of showing the familiar, Iñárritu goes deeper and further to present the hidden side of Barcelona and its marginalised people. He does this by following one man’s journey as he deals with the last few weeks of his life.
Uxbal, played magnificently by Javier Bardem, is a small time criminal who is involved with peddling handbags on the street, providing illegal Chinese immigrants to a construction company and talking to the dead for cash. At the same time he is raising his two young children on his own and dealing with his unreliable ex-wife. Everyday is a battle in this barely recognisable life as Uxbal deals with both sides of the law unable to rely on anyone as shown in his dealings with the police in the shape of Rubén Ochandiano’s character, Zanc. Abrasive and corrupt, Ochandiano, last seen in Los abrazos rotos, is a vibrant contrast to Uxbal whose physical strength is gradually diminishing.
The loss of his strength is supplemented by a turn to the more spiritual side to deal with his life and the everyday and extraordinary tragedies in his path.
The title of the film Biutiful, stands for the young and innocent hope that seems to be crushed at every turn. For Uxbal this is particularly evident as he has vulnerable people who depend on him but he has to rely on others who are not trustworthy.
This is a well directed and brilliantly portrayed story of family and hope played out in the alleyways and side streets of Barcelona.
Biutiful is screening at the Watershed from 28 January to 10 Februrary.