Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 16th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Life Wish

films_biutifulFierce morality vs. mortality in haunting 'Biutiful'

How long is long enough to save the world? Even the miniscule portion of your immediate world where you might actually be able to make an impact? This is the dilemma faced by the hard-luck protagonist played with furious grace by the great Javier Bardem in Biutiful, a man clawing a living out of the urban underbelly of Barcelona who discovers he has only a short time left to straighten out his messy life for the sake of his beloved children. Brooding and heartfelt, it's a dark, yet tender vision of life on the fringe from the always provocative Alejandro González Iñárritu.

In his three impressive previous films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel), Iñárritu displays his concern for the precarious state of the human condition, and the many ways a person can go astray—due to poverty, oppression, or corruption from without or within. Yet the resilience of the human species and our nobler aspirations to morality fascinates Iñárritu as well. In Biutiful, this duality between our best and lesser selves is symbolized by the notion of souls peeling away at the moment of death; some are ready to go, others linger, desperately seeking redemption.

It's the gift—or curse—of 40-year-old Uxbal (Bardem) that he can hear and converse with these soon-to-depart souls. One of the ways he scrapes together extra dinero is at the funeral home, trying to help unquiet spirits transition to the beyond at the request of their bereaved families, an emotionally grueling service, for which he feels guilty getting paid. But he does whatever it takes to provide stability for his 10-year-old daughter and little boy. A dedicated father who never knew his own dad (an escapee from Franco's regime), Uxbal is raising his kids pretty much on his own.

His other means of income involve various protection rackets around the city between crooked cops, illegal immigrants, and the shady characters who employ them. Iñárritu is attuned to the plight of immigrants struggling to make it in the West: Senegalese vendors selling jewelry and trinkets in the street (and dealing drugs on the side); dozens of Chinese laborers, including women and children, sleeping like sardines in a warehouse basement, deployed by day to a construction site or a sweatshop for slave wages. Uxbal is more personally involved with some of them than he should be (especially where children are involved), making small, quixotic gestures to help better their grim circumstances when he can. In a milieu of callous corruption, Uxbal's fierce, innate decency is a small miracle.

The news that he himself has only a scant month or two left to live sends Uxbal into tailspin. Against his better judgment (in a few eloquent scenes aching with hope and futility), he tries to patch things up with his alcoholic, bipolar ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez), who's too much of a party girl to cope with fidelity or motherhood. His sleazeball brother (Eduard Fernández) is no help either. As always, Uxbal has only his own inner resources to rely on as he struggles to make sure his children will be cared for after he's gone.

Bardem gives a performance of towering intensity, wry humor, and tenderness. One of the cinema's greatest, most imposing faces, he's onscreen virtually every moment and you can't take your eyes of him, whether he's teasing or comforting his kids, or struggling to resist his own weaker impulses. The look of the film combines flashy, gritty urbanscapes with marvelously poetic images, like the shadowy moths fluttering at the ceiling, or a sudden swarm of black birds against a twilit sky to suggest the transitioning spirits Uxbal has not been able to help.

In a world devoid of moral authority, Uxbal's only solace comes from a middle-aged spiritualist friend; in two fleet, compelling scenes, she speaks truth to him on the inevitable cycles of life and death. A lovely prologue/epilogue about the legacy fathers leave for their children (the same film_biutifulsequence, shot from different POVs)  begins and ends the story, completing the circle of life around one man whose determination to cling to his better nature, against all odds, becomes profound in Iñárritu's haunting, deeply layered film.



★★★1/2 (out of four)
Watch film trailer >>>

With Javier Bardem and Maricel Alvarez. Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bo, and Nicolás Giacobone. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. A Roadside Attractions release. Rated R. 148 minutes.



Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.


Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.


Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.


Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments


Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.


How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management


Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX


Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.