Biutiful as reviewed by The Phantom TollboothBardem is masterful as he struggles to redeem a life in Barcelona’s underworld.










Optimum Home Entertainment

Time: 141 minutes + ca. 32 minutes of extras

Region 2 DVD, Spanish with English sub-titles

With previous movies from Alejandro González Iñárritu including the trilogy of Amores Peres, 21 Grams and Babel, the imminent DVD release of Biutiful is mouth-watering.

Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, an established criminal with a diverse portfolio that includes sweatshop piracy, drugs, theft and illegal immigrants. When he is diagnosed with cancer and given only two months to live, he thinks about his legacy and tries to redeem his life. However, one of his small redemptive deeds goes disastrously wrong, giving him even more to sort out.

Deserved Oscar winner in Best Actor category, Bardem‘s remarkable presence grips this story and refuses to let go, clasping the viewer’s gaze with anxious hope. He holds together the disparate strands of Uxbal’s character, weaving them into a thick, taut rope. The wrong choices that Uxbal invested in pay unhealthy dividends and do so richly, but when he is at home with his children, in scenes that glow with natural affection, his angst often dissipates.

Helping to mix these strands is his estranged masseuse wife Marambra (Maricel Álvarez), who suffers from bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse. Sometimes she takes her place in the happy family, but at others, her weaknesses provoke Uxbal to anger and frustration.

The child actors are convincing as Uxbals’s children, especially Hanaa Bouchaib, who plays his daughter Ana. She captures that stage of growing up where she is caught between childish innocence and a developing awareness of her parents’ struggles.

Apart from the usual trailers, the extras include a 21-minute director’s video diary; three short interviews with the leading actors and an idiosyncratic video introduction to most of the crew.

The film asks questions about what really matters in life and what examples we set for the next generation; it portrays resolute courage and shows that integrity is something to strive for, even when running the race with a significant handicap. Director Iñárritu says that the eyes are the most important part of his actors’ bodies (hence the close-ups of Bardem in the poster and cover?) and Bardem’s eyes live the pressure of trying to reconcile guilt, love, spirituality, crime and death. Whether the film needs to be this long is questionable, and with other director-lead partnerships it would have dragged. As it is, the story is uncomfortably compelling.

Derek Walker