Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film, Biutiful, is a love story between a father and his children. It follows Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a separated father of two and black marketeer, as he learns of his terminal prostate cancer and embarks on a journey to atone for the life he has lead.
Uxbal earns his living by securing work for illegal immigrants as well as managing a group of Chinese workers producing forged designer goods along with the African street vendors who are selling them. As Uxbal’s health deteriorates, he struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, crime, and guilt amidst the shady underground business in Barcelona, Spain. Moved by the sentence of death, Uxbal attempts reconciliation with his bipolar and alcoholic wife. He also seeks to improve working conditions for the Chinese immigrants; however, both of these attempts end tragically, leaving Uxbal with only anguish.
Iñárritu follows Uxbal’s last days with great intimacy. Here, we see a man whose sickness is reducing him to a failing body and whose love is made more desperate as his final days inevitably approach. The film’s most emotional scene takes place when Uxbal’s daughter, Ana, confronts him and confirms his impending death. He tells her to look upon his face and never forget him, and the camera lingers on one of their last embraces.
The loss of innocence of both children really resonated with me. Through their mother’s relapses and father’s dealings in the black market, the children come to find that the adults in their life do not have divine intelligence and that their judgments are not always wise. That safety net is gone and things are never quite the same again. It is an aching kind of growing that the film captures masterfully.
Biutiful explores our humble impermanence. It is not until the end that our existence is revealed to us in its effable brevity, and this is, perhaps, one of the most painful reconciliations to make. What are we to do in our final days of life? Will we live on in the memory of the ones we love most? As Iñárritu puts it, Biutiful is not a film about death, “…but a reflection in and about life when our inevitable loss of it occurs.”