Although it circles back on itself, bracketed by dreamy scenes of snow-covered woods where momentous things occur, Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful works differently than the Mexican director's previous films.
No overlapping time-loop narratives, no sprawling, interconnected cast of characters. The story is linear, the point of view belongs to just one man. And yet, this immensely powerful and haunting work resonates in ways that Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel - hardly lightweight affairs - did not.
Much of that resonance has to do with Javier Bardem, who was rightly accorded a best-actor Oscar nomination last week and who draws from a deep, deep well of love, pain, and who-knows-what-else. It's a performance that will make you forget any shortcomings, or pretensions, the film might have (and it has a few). Bardem is Uxbal, a street criminal in Barcelona - he traffics in illegal immigrant labor, from Chinese sweatshop workers to Senegalese street dealers - who discovers he has inoperable cancer, and only a short time to live. Uxbal has two children, Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella), whom he loves dearly. His ex-wife, their mother, Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), is a boozed-up basket case who works now and then as a prostitute; she comes and goes, but he is the anchor, the center of gravity in the kids' lives.