Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is struggling to keep it all together, even as he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer. If it’s not one thing it’s another. He’s virtually the sole parent of his two kids. His wife, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) is unfaithful, bi-polar and just can’t keep it together. Uxbal himself does not hold down a straight job. He’s a middle-man between street hawkers, knock-off manufacturers, illegal laborers – whatever brings in some cash. After his diagnosis, the necessity to sock away cash becomes even more important. What can he do? Leave the kids with his wife?
Biutiful director (and writer) Alejandro González Iñárritu, as in all his films, is one of the most ambitious directors working today. As such there is much in his films that do not always work as he had intended. But this is also the source of his brilliance, he continues to expand the playing field. I can never fault an artist for that. I forgive much in films like this.
As an actor, Javier Bardem’s range matches Iñárritu’s ambition. Think of his roles in No Country for Old Men or Vicky Christina Barcelona. I’d say he’s perfectly cast here, but that would be misleading. He takes the role and immerses himself in it. There are maybe other actors who could have played the role, but I’d doubt if anyone else could have surpassed his performance here. He deserves whatever accolades he receives for this role.
A word about the opther cast members: Newcomers (?) Maricel Álvarez is very, very good opposite Bardem, as is Hanaa Bouchaib, who plays their daughter Ana.
This film – and indeed other Iñárritu films – are not for everyone: dark, bleak, and almost unremittingly pessimistic. Fate has a way of playing a cosmic joke on this people. But at their core, these films are redemptive and spiritual.