Biutiful is pure cinema, extremely artsy and personal (so by that definition people liked to call it pretentious…), and a further reminder of how filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is interested in pushing the form and crafting films of intense emotional and visceral impact. This 2010 Spanish language film was met with passionate embrace from a handful of critics, and star Javier Bardem would win Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (which was the first time the Academy recognized an entirely Spanish language performance in this category). The film would also receive a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and would serve as Inarritu’s follow up to Babel. Bardem plays a terminally ill career criminal named Uxbal, who cons his way through Barcelona’s seedy, underground sweatshop world, a place filled with darkness hanging around every corner, with back alley deceit a major highlight. But Uxbal has a conscience, and understands the plight of the impoverished workers that make up this hellish environment.
He’s also a devoted family man, in love with his wife to an alarming degree, and as the film traces his final days of life on Earth, we watch as a man tries to put all of the messy strands of his life together, all the while knowing he’ll most likely be incomplete in all his goals. There’s a ghostly spiritual angle to this film as well, which were the portions that rubbed some people the wrong way, but Inarritu has always been intoxicated by a sense of the ethereal in all of his films, it’s just here he took it literally, with results that were, for me, rather intoxicating. Rodrigo Prieto’s gritty yet extraordinarily beautiful cinematography makes tremendous art out of a ton of despair and suffering, offering the viewer boldly designed visual compositions which are as searing as Bardem’s tour de force performance. Gustavo Santaolalla’s mournful score sets the appropriate mood, and it’s interesting to note that the film was co-written by two of the men who Inarritu would script Birdman with (Armando Bo, Jr. and Nicolas Giacobone); in retrospect the two films feels VERY connected on both an aesthetic and thematic level. The great Stephen Mirrione handled the fluid and graceful editing, cutting a picture that doubles back on itself, and uses expressive visual language to communicate mood and feeling. Seek this out if you’ve not seen it.