“Biutiful” (2010). Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanna Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Eduard Fernández, Cheikh Ndiaye, Diaryatou Daff, Taisheng Cheng, Luo Jin, Ana Wagener, Lang Sofia Lin, Rubén Ochandiano, Nasser Saleh. Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacobone. www.biutiful-themovie.com/
Sooner or later, the life we live comes to an end. But the conclusion of this life is merely the close of a single chapter in our soul’s journey, with death providing the conduit to whatever comes next. Whenever that end comes, the more at peace we are with the transition, the more we’ll get out of the experience, not only of what we’re going to but also of what we’re leaving behind. Learning how to prepare ourselves for that time is the subject of the emotionally moving new drama, “Biutiful.”
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a dying man. Having been diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer, he knows his days are numbered. And the prospect of that impending death scares him, not only because of the loss it represents to him personally but also because of the loss it would mean to the many others who rely on him. He worries that he won’t be able to provide the means to adequately cover their needs for a time when he’s no longer around.
Despite years of experience at navigating the dicey challenges of daily life in Barcelona’s seamy underbelly, Uxbal’s latest ordeal overwhelms him. Even though he’s rather adept at employing a “whatever it takes” approach to get others what they need—be it work, shelter or nurturing—to fill the gaps in their lives (sometimes even at his own expense), he must now make provisions for them for the long term and not just the pressing needs of the moment. It’s a tall order, and he needs to hurry.
Those who benefit most directly from Uxbal’s efforts are his young children, Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella), as well as his ex-wife, Marambra (Maricel Álvarez), a flirtatious “massage therapist” who suffers from a severe case of bipolar disorder. He also works hard, in conjunction with his brother Tito (Eduard Fernández), as a sort of black market headhunter who specializes in securing employment for the illegal immigrants of Barcelona’s African and Chinese communities, finding jobs for the disenfranchised while keeping the authorities sufficiently paid off. And, despite the many burdens of all these challenges, he’s generally very effective at surmounting them. But, given his own changed circumstances, he now faces the biggest gap he’s ever tried to fill.
In a somewhat ironic twist, Uxbal also has a special gift that many might view as a distinct advantage in approaching the circumstances he now faces—an ability to communicate with the dead. It’s a skill at which he’s quite proficient but one that he uses sparingly, primarily to help lost souls pass over and to provide comfort to the bereaved by relaying messages from lost loved ones, almost as if it were another of his gap-filling talents. Little does he realize, however, that drawing upon this ability more fully now might also help him as he prepares to make peace with his own transition.
The subject of death and transition has figured largely in many feature films released over the past year (“Hereafter,” “Get Low” and “Black Swan,” to name a few), and it’s been interesting to see how they’ve each handled this subject matter. In nearly all cases, the approach has been more enlightening than many films of the past, stressing that the end of this life is not the end of our existence but merely a shift to something new. Such thinking is right in line with conscious creation philosophy, one of whose core principles is that “we are all in a constant state of becoming.” Or, as noted in the paranormal classic “Phenomenon” (1996), “Everything is on its way to someplace else.”
“Biutiful” is the latest offering in this genre of enlightened films about death, but its approach is a little different. While its narrative inherently postulates that we are all in a constant state of becoming and transforming, it does so from the perspective of a character who, like many viewers, fears the transition despite an innate knowledge to the contrary (or, specifically in Uxbal’s case, despite the added benefit of the wisdom afforded him by his special gift). Some might find that an odd line of probability for someone to explore, but, as conscious creation practitioners are well aware, all expressions of existence are equally capable of manifestation, no matter how intrinsically incongruous they might seem. Such is Uxbal’s challenge—to validate, and ultimately to freely accept, an outcome that he already knows to be true—and that he need not fear.
As the film progresses and Uxbal becomes more reconciled to the path on which he finds himself, the focus of his concern shifts more from himself to others, with an emphasis on making sure that he gets everything done in time. With his health failing, however, he realizes that there’s only so much he can do and that others will have to learn to get along on their own, as they will have to do once he’s gone. This thus enables a transition that is on his terms, one that embodies the wisdom found on a water color by artist B. Andreas that hangs prominently in my home: “Everything changed the day he figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in his life.”
With his time dwindling, some may question Uxbal’s preoccupation with addressing the needs of others. “Why isn’t he going out and enjoying what little time he has left?” they might ask. But being of service to others is clearly the essence of Uxbal’s value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept concerned with destiny whereby each of us is called upon to do our best, through our actions and our own unique talents, to be of service to ourselves and to the world at large. Uxbal’s sensitivity to the plight of others is profound and no doubt based on his own past, having grown up without a father and experiencing an upbringing where his own needs weren’t met as well as they otherwise might have been. It’s inspiring that he avows this calling so seriously, providing a shining example that we could all learn from, not only in being true to ourselves but also in working for the betterment of humanity.
“Biutiful” is a captivating picture in many respects. It’s a strong favorite to snare this year’s Academy Award for best foreign language film, an honor for which it was also nominated in this year’s Golden Globe Awards competition. Its style is classic Iñárritu, drawing upon elements and approaches that the director has used in earlier works, like “Babel” (2006) and “21 Grams” (2003), but incorporating new touches, especially in areas like cinematography and editing, that allow this film to stand out on its own. Bardem’s Oscar-nominated performance is phenomenal, arguably his best work to date and well worth the many accolades he has received for it. And the film’s haunting soundtrack completes the package, providing the perfect ethereal backdrop to a masterfully crafted piece of cinema.
The soul may be eternal, but its embodiment in flesh is not. Which is why it’s so important that we make the most of the time we have in it, especially when the end draws near, for those who find it in themselves to do so will discover just what a “Biutiful” experience it can be.
Copyright (c) 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.