Many of us believe that life is a circle. Whether it’s ending up where you begin or the karmic cycle, in some small way we believe it. ‘Biutiful’ is a similar depiction of the life of a man where survival is a struggle.
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) leads a life on multiple levels. Literally! With two children to look after, he needs money from wherever he can get it. Working as a middleman for illegal immigrants from Senegal and China, he tries to balance his guilt of being party to the exploitation by helping their families and aiding their survival. Uxbal also has a gift of communicating with the dead and helping them move on by freeing their souls.
A gift fine tuned by a tutor who believes that it is to be shared for free. Perhaps the price he puts on his talent is the cause of his punishment – an impending death. As he tries to get his affairs in order so as to leave some sort of comfort for his children, the situations get from bad to worse.
With an abusive bipolar wife, a scoundrel of a brother and noble deeds that turn out to be disastrous, Uxbal’s journey to the end is a morbid one. Bardem’s magnetic performance is compelling despite the note of despair running through the movie. Even in his weakest moments, as his body and mind deteriorate, he lifts it up.
The movie is layered with the thoughts and emotions. The shallowness of greedy men stands in stark contrast to the struggle of the helpless, living in meager conditions. A few playful and happy family moments give relief to the shadow of gloom, albeit briefly. The supernatural punctuates the story on a very real note.
The brutality of life, the decaying surroundings and the struggle for existence unravel a cruder and harsher reality. One of dark secrets, suppressed fears and compulsive crime translated almost like a melancholic poem, recited through the brilliant camera work.
‘Biutiful’ is definitely not for the weak hearted with its shots of rotting bodies including a particularly gruesome one where Uxbal encounters the embalmed body of his deceased father.
The movie ends on a crescendo as it completes its circle on a calmer note in a snowy setting.