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Review (9/10)
(By Rayna)

In the Spanish-language film Biutiful, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a man who is emotionally and spiritually connected to the afterlife while struggling with parenting two young children who sense the danger of his imminent death. The film intensely explores the issue of fatherhood; the challenges of being a father, the fear of losing a father and realizing the fact that you’re becoming your own father to your children. Uxbal is an idol to some but personally he experiences difficulties learning to love and to forgive.

The story presents a strong physical, spiritual and emotional journey of Uxbal in Barcelona. His daughter Ana (Maria Eldia) told him that when an owl dies, it spits a hairball from its beak and Uxbal dreams of the image that eventually leads him to viewing situations differently. It was evident that Uxbal’s character held plenty of contradictions. He provides financial benefits to police officials in Spain to not intervene with the African street vendors while at the same time he protects Chinese immigrants who are being exploited as cheap labour by fighting for the improvement of their living conditions while he himself exploits their labour. He is a street man who the community members depend on for spiritual guidance because of his gift of speaking to the dead and guiding them to the light — but he receives payment for his duties from family members who are under duress. And he is a family man who loves his children but he can’t prevent himself from losing his temper with them. A strong spirited man although weak emotionally and ironically a man upon whom everyone depends but who also depends on everyone.

Uxbal is a lonely man searching to learn about the father he never knew. Javier Bardem’s character was deep and extremely believable. His role was committed and intense with an excellent performance. The seriousness is conveyed not only in his speech but also in his silence and physical appearance. In the end Uxbal, although a highly complex character, is a man the average person can relate to; a man experiencing a difficult life altering illness (cancer) he must face reality after being advised he only has months to live. Uxbal rushes to establish his affairs in an orderly manner as he wants to leave a legacy for his family, he desperately wishes to leave his children with positive memories and the spirit of home that can be carried into the future.

Another challenging role was that of Uxbal’s wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). With the complexity of the emotional disorder referred to as bipolar or manic depression, her character was real while she demonstrated both tenderness and danger throughout her struggle with chemical dependency and an inability to accept and understand her mental illness. The challenges of parenting with mental health and the turmoil caused by misusing prescribed medication lead to the reality of living with a mental health disorder. Uxbal struggles with the inner and outer transcendent aspect of his journey that is intertwined in his relationship with Marambra demonstrating extreme volatility.

Uxbal also has a conflicted relationship with his brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez) who is brutally honest and also overly involved with his ex wife. Tito also engages in social activity that Uxbal disapproves and causes strain among the family.

The role of Ige (Diaryatou Daff) is Senegalese and like many other African woman, she risked her life and left her country to look for a job to help maintain her family members. Her life was with hardship as she struggled to escape a violent arranged relationship later to marry a young man with whom she had a child only to then face deportation.

The scenes with the children were difficult to watch psychologically due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. Guillermo (Mateo) was quiet but strong in physical presence. The abuse he endured by his mother and father caused discomfort to view. Maria Eldia (Ana) was striking and showed a child’s inner struggles with the understanding of a dying parent.

I would be shocked if Javier Bardem did not receive at least an Oscar nomination for his performance. The emotional range in each scene appeared effortless. In addition, I can draw the same comparison for the entire cast. The movie will provoke an affecting response with unspeakable thoughts. The title is a reference to an innocent misspelling by Ana who considers “Biutiful” the equivalent of “The Pursuit of Happyness”.

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