Film: Biutiful; Director: Alejandro González Inárritu; Cast: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez: Language: Spanish; Rating: ****
Akira Kurosawa did it first in 1952 with "Ikiru" and now it's the turn of auteur Alejandro González Inárritu to try his hand at the search for redemption triggered by the certainty of death with a major difference between both. If you know Inárritu's style, you'd know that this would be a dark, harsh take. It is -- and the addition of supernatural elements only heighten the broodiness, the surreality and the 'beauty' of this chaotic story.
Uxbal has the natural ability to converse with the dead which he uses to make a little extra money. Like exploiting the dead, he exploits the living by getting work - legal and illegal - to illegal African and Chinese immigrants in Spain. The only thing he loves, while trying to make sense of his distorted existence and twisted relationships with those around, are his two children.
His life, however, gets out of his narrow focus when he discovers that he has cancer. Unwilling to die with grace and fearing for his children, he tries to tie the loose ends of his life, expand his worldview, while at the same time seeking redemption for his life. The results are disastrous.
Sadly there's no light at the end of the tunnel of his life, and it is a void lit up only by the darkness of his desperation, unfulfilled desires and failures.
The metaphor of the film is of a man alive, who can see the dead, but cannot see how dead he is himself, till he faces his own mortality head on and like a drowning man beats his hands in desperation.
Yet, Inárritu seems to suggest that the search for redemption in the distorted existence of our lives is indeed the most beautiful thing in the world. Like Jesus who said: "Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone", Inárritu refuses to cast a moral stone at any of his characters or their twisted existence. He merely shines a shaky, compassionate camera at each - struggling with their pains of the past, fear of the future and the occasional search for forgiveness in the present and, through it, hope.
One of the most striking elements of the film, as with Inárritu's every film, is its casting. It is immaculate with the lead Javier Bardem literally leading the way. Maricel Álvarez as the mentally unstable but good-intentioned wife and mother is equally stunning.
This is a film whose atmosphere is created not by its physical setting, but by its shaky hand-held camera movements and by the intensity of its actors. To accentuate the hostile mood, are the strings of Inárritu regular, Gustavo Santaolalla, who discards his usual gentility and gives a dark, broody sound for the film, seemingly jarring, but one that breaks new grounds in background score with its harsh tone and brutality, in perfect sync with the film.
"Biutiful" is a dark film, which seemingly offers no hope. That can indeed be the perception at one level. Yet, on another level one can see it as one of the most beautiful and hope-infested films ever, where not the end result but the present intention of the film, and life, counts.
It seems to suggest that even if one's path to forgiveness and one's own crawl back to death, and hence life, may be lit up with darkness and failure, it is not just worth it, but is eternally beautiful.