Alejandro González Iñárritu (director of Babel and 21 Grams) and Javier Bardem (the No Country for Old Men and Sea Inside Bardem, not the witty seducer in Vicky Cristina Barcelona) aren’t the cheeriest pair around, but in the deeply felt, eloquent Biutiful, their collaboration is inspired. Bardem plays Uxbal, a petty criminal scraping by on the grimy back streets of Barcelona, sometimes earning extra cash from mourners because he can truly communicate with the recently dead. He also has two small children (Biutiful is his daughter’s misspelling), a bipolar ex-wife off her meds, and, as if life weren’t Job-like enough, a diagnosis of hopeless prostate cancer. Bardem’s subtlety and control make Uxbal’s attempt to find a future for his children heartbreaking yet (unlikely though it sounds) thoroughly unsentimental. Iñárritu’s trademark interwoven plots have one thread too many here, but this shattering experience—earthbound and fraught with the afterlife—is worth every undying minute.
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