Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has well and truly established a signature aesthetic in his work. The stark, listless and gritty landscapes of such accolade accumulating works as '21 Grams' and 'Babel' are again resurrected in his latest work, 'Biutiful', which was nominated for the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards.
'Biutiful' opens in limited release across Australia on March 24.
From one frame to the next the film is smothered in a residue of grime; painting Spain as a dystopian wonderland shrouded in a haze of depression and festering décor. However, the visuals are only the beginning. As in Iñárritu's other films, the plot itself is as depressing as the scenery; a cesspool of bent businessmen, broken dreams, irreparable relationships and hypocrisy.
The film follows the plight of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a struggling father of two who works as a go between contractor for illegal immigrants and the people smugglers who possess them. However, work is the least of Uxbal's problems. He's been urinating blood for a while now and has not long in this world.
Meanwhile, his unstable bipolar ex wife Marambra (Maricel Álvarez) is off her medication and wants back into the family. In short, Uxbal has a lot of loose ends to tie off before he dies, the reality of which he is keen to deny despite his dogged efforts to provide for his family. His denial is somewhat ironic given his ability to communicate with the recently departed, a delightfully forthright metaphor woven throughout the film.
Biutiful' is as much an examination of the relationship people form with life and death, as it is a statement about the severe reality of life in the underbelly of an international hub. The latter premise is sweated over the audience to the point where it's almost stifling; everyone's a victim of life's cruel jesting as much as they are manipulative and predatory.
Uxbal himself is a fundamentally kind and moral figure, painted as a mere well intentioned realist who tries his best for the people in his care while taking his cut. The acting itself is solid and largely understated, with Bardem's mournful face propelling his Oscar nominated performance, which was among the most engrossing elements of the film. However, the film itself has a tendency to meander about; it's a little too real in its grittiness and a little too poetic.