Steeped for two hours in a twisted moral mania, I stare blinking at the screen as the credits for “Biutiful” start to roll.
My expectations for this Oscar-nominated foreign film were extremely high, given that two of my all-time cinema favorites formed the crux of it. With Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Sea Inside,” “Mondays in the Sun”) playing the lead role and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Babel,” “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams”) directing and producing, I rented this flick anticipating awesomeness.
It did not disappoint.
The film gave me plenty to mull over in my mind, which is what all my favorites provide. You know, something to really chew on after the popcorn is long gone.
“Biutiful” (the title comes from the orthographical way of spelling “beautiful” in Spanish) posits the question of whether intention matters more than the end result.
The prime example is when Uxbal (Bardem’s character) endeavors to help a couple dozen Chinese laborers improve their quality of life. Freezing because they are stored like machinery in a Barcelona factory’s basement, Uxbal buys several space heaters to keep them warm at night during the winter.
(*Minor spoiler alert*) However, the next morning he learns they all died of asphyxiation from the heaters’ gas fumes. The bodies wash up on shore days later after the factory’s owners dump them in the Mediterranean 300 yards from the coast.
Uxbal is tortured by the reality. He questions whether he should turn himself in, but knows that would jeopardize his children’s well-being because they’d be left with their bipolar mother.
Despite not having any money to spare to begin with, he also blames himself for not buying more expensive heaters that may not have caused the same effect. The mental anguish Bardem portrays on screen is haunting.
Inarritu lets the viewers wrestle right from wrong. He avoids explicitly telling his audience what to think about the variety of heavy moral and spiritual issues presented in the film.
Maybe it’s just the journalist in me, but this is similar to what I expect from any good front-page news article — an unbiased story with as many viewpoints as possible, captured in gripping realism without being sensational. Easier said than done at times.