His curious relationships also include seeing and hearing the dead. Most of the time, Uxbal zigzags from his cramped family apartment to the streets where he pays off cops, negotiates with factory owners and coordinates black market immigrant workers. The film is unrelentingly grim with brief interludes of tenderness as the downward spiral propels the action.
As Uxbal, Oscar winner Javier Bardem gives an intense, daring performance that earned him the best actor award at last year's Cannes film festival and an Academy Award nomination this year. And Biutiful (yes, the title is puposely misspelled "biutiful") earned a Best Foreign Film nomination. It certainly moves apace through its two hours plus though its complex plot occasionally gets sidetracked with tangential concerns. Uxbal's full, even cluttered, life has enough going on already without additional subplots intruding.
In January's American Cinematographer magazine, director Inarritu and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto say they lit scenes to effect a naturalistic feel. In addition, Prieto shot 95% of the film handheld largely from Uxbal's perspective to communicate his emotional register and convey visceral energy. As Uxbal's subjective experience shifts through the film, the compositions change from tighter to looser framing. Asymmetrical, unbalanced compositions express Uxbal's confusion, drawing the viewer into his distress.
Shot on location, the lived-in feel is palpable, conveying a dynamic social environment in which personalities collide. Effective art direction and color saturation intensify the gritty ambience. Ironically titled, delicately skirting melodrama, Biutiful is a forceful drama of a shattered individual. In Spanish with English subtitles and with some English. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.