Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 28 January 2011
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is a Math/English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
The title may be Biutiful, but you’d be hard pressed to find something to qualify for that label. Visually dismal and grim, at first there is little to see, only a disheveled man, a dingy apartment, rundown streets, and a seedy, impoverished existence that encompasses women and children in its dirty hands. Not exactly a great travel promotion for the city either, which incidentally, is Barcelona.
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a cancer-riddled people broker with a hand in the black market goods made and sold by the African and Chinese illegal immigrants he oversees; all for a cut of the profits of course. He pays off a corrupt cop to keep things running smoothly, until drugs enter the picture. Uxbal also possesses the ability to commune with the newly dead as a kind of “soul whisperer” for which the grieving families pay him a fee. But perhaps the most unfortunate thing that Uxbal possesses is a conscience.
The terminally ill, wrong-side-of-the-law Uxbal is a guilt-ridden father of two - the custodial parent, no less. His estranged wife Marambra (Marciel Alvarez) is a bi-polar party girl who’d like to be a good mother, but just doesn’t know how. Instead, she lives nearby, and has massage “sessions” with men, one of whom is Uxbal’s brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez).
Daughter Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and son Mateo (Guillermo Estrella) are the bright spots in Uxbal’s life, a reminder that he is capable of deep, unconditional love, which sometimes even extends to his wanton irresponsible wife. Table manners are maintained in the tiny apartment, especially important to Uxbal to impress upon the bed-wetting, mouth-stuffing Mateo. Ana is the family observer, frequently the first one to notice something is amiss.
Life’s stresses become even more compressed and distilled for Uxbal when death enters into the equation. It has always accompanied him in his capacity of soul whisperer; now it has come looking for him, grimly gifting the ailing man with fatigue, incontinence and bloody urine as daily reminders of its looming, final presence.
With one foot already in the spirit world Uxbal’s remaining time becomes an urgent quest to provide for his children after he’s gone. He demands payment for services rendered and tries to look out for others that he feels responsible for, like his kids’ Chinese babysitter Lily and a deported Senegalese associate’s wife, Ige (Diaryatou Daff) – each has a child.
An unforeseen tragedy occurs, throwing Uxbal’s world into even more turmoil. He must scramble urgently to find a way for his kids to be cared for, someone other than Marambra, and he must amass enough money to do so. All the while life swirls by in a gray parade of tough luck, ugliness, pain, and regret. Does Uxbal welcome death or fight its grip?
The title comes from Ana’s refrigerator drawing of the snowy Pyrenees, a vacation spot that means a respite from her dreary surroundings. The word “biutiful” is written across the drawing as if proof that such a thing even exists.
Bardem is a flashpoint of realism and truth here. Misery, hope, joy and love cross his face like a transient light show just long enough to register then fleetingly gone. He carries us on his burdened shoulders pushing forward even when we’ve had enough. Marciel Alvarez brings a predatory playfulness to Marambra, making her both amoral and sympathetic.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams) co-wrote the script with Amando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone. The result is that events, both unsavory and mundane, unravel without backstory. We arrive at a certain point in time and we leave at this one. Our conclusions are our own to draw. Inarritu simply escorts us part of the way, showing us not how Uxbal arrived at his circumstances, only how he will leave them.
At 2 ½ hours, the film could have been tightened up by excising an extraneous strip club scene, thrown in it seems only to establish Tito’s sleazy lifestyle, as if we didn’t get that from his liaisons with Marambra.
Biutiful mirrors the human condition in all of its self-destructive misery, hopelessness, and greed; it also highlights familial bonds, dedication and nurturing instincts that transcend self-preservation.
And that, despite the despair and the disappointments, is what qualifies it for the title.