Biutiful, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s first film since he split from screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, with whom he created the fractured, parceled-out, time-toggling—and increasingly globe-hopping, multilingual, and portentous—trilogy Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, stays in one place (Barcelona) and follows one main character (Javier Bardem’s Uxbal) in a linear storyline. Though its structure may be whittled down in comparison with the earlier works, Biutiful is even more morbidly obese than Babel in terms of soggy ideas, elephantine with miserabilist humanism and redemption jibber-jabber. Beyond dying of prostate cancer—a situation that calls for several scenes of Bardem peeing blood and his pants before affixing an adult diaper—Uxbal must contend with a bipolar wife who’s sleeping with his brother; serve as the black-market point man for Senegalese dope-peddlers and two venal Chinese sweatshop overseers (who also happen to be d/l lovers); and communicate with the dead—a burdensome gift that comes in handy after a horrible incident at the sweatshop. Through this relentless, manipulative muck, Uxbal tries to be a stable, loving parent to his two tykes, especially after Mom gives one of them a shiner. For all the hand-wringing hooey, Iñárritu says nothing more complex than this: Father feels worst.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 29, 2010