Javier Bardem’s powerful presence on screen, his ability to move you with the depth of his eyes and the consistently complex roles he takes on all make me want to draw a comparison with Al Pacino. Bardem has surely achieved his magnum opus in Biutiful, where he plays Uxbal, the dying, run-down father of two, who is desperately trying to juggle looking after his children with his ‘professional’ life in Barcelona’s underworld.
It is, of course, as much down to director Iñárritu as it is to Bardem that Biutiful is as special as it is. With his previous three films – Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel – the Mexican has gained a reputation for packing his work with pain that was always nevertheless inexplicably and utterly watchable. When human suffering is exhibited in an Iñárritu film, it is never fleetingly or carelessly considered, nor is it melodramatically underscored with extravagant music. Instead, it is always brutally honest and very hard not to be moved by. The only difference is that, with the arrival of Biutiful, the experimental aspects of his earlier films have been dropped. The innovative editing of the ‘Death Trilogy,’ with its nonlinear narratives and switching between multiple stories, worked incredibly well, but one couldn’t help but think a director with such an eye for raw emotion was destined to end up focusing more intensely on one story as he does in Biutiful.
Before the film started, Bardem said to the audience at the London Film Festival that there are some films you love, others you hate, and then there’s a third type where those words don’t exactly apply in any meaningful sense, and instead you’re left with a piece of cinema that attempts to take you on a journey too heart-aching to be pleasurable, but also too human to detest. Biutiful undoubtedly fits this last category. To watch it is indeed to go on a journey, of a kind very few living filmmakers could ever even hope to achieve.