Saturday, 29 January 2011


This is a gritty and demanding movie. It charts the long dark night of the soul for Uxbal whose world slides inexorably into despair, disappointment and death whilst he is seeking respite, renewal and redemption. Always on the threshold of making it big but never quite pulling it off, Uxbal staggers from mishap to catastrophe as he attempts to bring up his daughter and son single-handedly in the dismal and bleak back streets of one of Barcelona's least desirable neighbourhoods.

In this journey, Uxbal, is a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. He is a psychic sought out by recently bereaved locals who helps the souls of the dead to journey from their body to their final resting place. Yet he struggles to prepare himself for the same journey once diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer that already has secondaries.

His estranged wife Marambra suffers with bipolar manic depression, earns a living giving 'massage', enjoys too much wine and unknown to Uxbal is sleeping with his brother Tito. Tito runs a club which allows full satisfaction of any need for drugs or sex and which towards the end of the film serves as the vehicle for Uxbal to have one last blast before his impending death. The trajectory of the film is clear from the outset - Uxbal will not find escape from the inevitability of his circumstances. As the film progresses - sometimes painfully slowly (it could do with losing 30 minutes) - the spectre of Uxbal's eventual demise looms ever larger over the unfolding plot.

Add to this Uxbal's role as go-between gang-master for a group of illegal African street hawkers and a group of illegal Chinese sweat shop workers and the seedy back-street world of the Barcelona that never features in the glossy travelogues is revealed in all its depressing forlornness. Things turn from bad to worse when the hawkers start dealing on the side to augment their meagre income and are busted by the Police and deported. Feeling sorry for the sweat-shop Chinese shivering in their basement hovel, Uxbal buys gas heaters for them and they end up gassed as they sleep one night.

This all sounds pretty bleak. It is. This is most definitely not a feel good film. It is nevertheless a wonderful and powerful study of the human spirit and the struggle to make good in the face of adversity. Throughout, Uxbal operates to the highest transcendent moral and ethical standards within his world both showing and earning respect among the community.

Uxbal's remorse for the deported Africans and dead Chinese is tangible. His inability to make a fresh start with his wife and give his children the domestic security he craves for them is frustrated by Marambra's illness. His impending failure to be there for his children weighs increasingly heavily on his heart. The film is set in the capital of Catalunya - a macho culture. Add to this the underworld dynamic, evidence of Uxbal's drug addiction past and the wailing and hysterical Marambra and you might conclude this movie's story is too dark and beyond redemption. You would be wrong.

The film's salvation comes from the strength of the performances - particularly the actors who play the lead family. Bardem has already won the 'Best Actor Award' at Cannes for this role and was nominated for a Golden Globe and is nominated for both a BAFTA and an Oscar. I'd say that on the basis of the evidence, he is a strong contender. Uxbal's devotion to his children and his desire to give them opportunities to make a life of their own is the redemptive power that drives the narrative. As he helps them with their homework, it it the transliterated spelling of the English word 'beautiful' that gives the film its title.

I'm not in a hurry to see this film again - it is a 147minute journey into a hellish existence - but I'm glad I did. I know I rave about my local Picture House Cinema (Harbour Lights) but a visit to London yesterday gave me the opportunity to visit the 'Ritzy' in Brixton - another in the chain. It was a great experience - a full food menu on offer, four screens, two bars and an upstairs lounge offering live music, comedy and readings. A really great and thriving centre of cultural engagement. I'll be back.

I'll give this film 7/10 and encourage those with a strong constitution to go and see it.


The Story Teller said...

Hi :)
I just happened to see Biutiful, and I have a few doubts.Who is the guy in the snowy forest with the dead owl? Does Ige actually return or does she run away with the money? Is her returning just Uxbal's imagination? And when Uxbal talks to his daughter about the radio and the sea sound, is he actually dead and imagining it all?
Other than that, a beautiful but rather slow movie :)
I'd appreciate it if you could help me out with these few questions :)

Anonymous said...

the man on the snow with Uxbal is his father, you can match the faces from a photo that Uxbal has

Anonymous said...

I agree that the man on the snow with Uxbal is his father. As for whether or not Ige returns, I like to think that she does and in an ideal world I believe that she does. However, as we are aware from watching the film, none of the characters live in this ideal world...

Anonymous said...

I think the man in the end in the snow is his son, b/c he brings up the owl puking a furball as they die, which the little kid brings up at some point in the movie. I think Uxbals soul was not at rest until his son got a little older and he knew he was alright and remembered him. I also think Ige was killed that's why you see her floating on the ceiling b/c now her soul was at unrest b/c of what she did. Just like the few asian men floating on the ceiling in the factory after the heater malfunction, that was a sign when a soul was at unrest. but please respond b/c these are just my interps...would love to hear others.

Anonymous said...

In response to the last comment, it wasn't Ige floating on the ceiling it was actually Uxbal himself. In which I think that was when the dying process began.. his "soul" or "spirit" was begining to detach from his human body.
I think the man in the snow, was his father because he actually had a picture of him that matched. This was an exceptional movie. I saw it yesterday and I'm still thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

can someone please explain the whole owl situation..? it is really frustrating me, i need closure... NOW

Anonymous said...

I agree with the 7/June response that the young man with Uxbal in the snow scene is Mateo, his son, and it makes sense that Uxbal would see him again if he could, and not be at peace unless he remembered him. I also agree that it looked like Ige on the ceiling, unfortunately, so that must mean that Uxbal was only hallucinating that she came back?

Anonymous said...

It's definitely Uxbal on the ceiling. I have a 720p digital version, paused it and it definitely was him. As for the man in the snow- I thought it could be either Mateo or Uxbal's father. I thought Mateo would look like his grandfather because looks sometimes tend to skip generations like that. Also the Owl throwing up a fur ball line was echoed by Mateo sometime in the middle bits of the movie. Though it could also very well be his father. As for Inge's return, I think that was purposefully ambiguous.

Great movie and definitely worth a watch. Bardem's acting chops are fucking fantastic.

Stay True said...

Thoughtful comments. Makes me think, and I enjoyed them all. A couple thoughts myself: I wonder about the title of this movie, 'Biutiful'. At first glance, it's not a very beautiful story at all. It's gross and raw on the surface. So much disturbs. But a deeper look shows an essential Beauty, a transcendent Aesthetic... Those scenes of Uxbal lovingly whispering his eternal devotion to his daughter as he passes, the courageous stands he takes to protect his children from their not quite good-enough mother, the tireless commitment to the powerless immigrants, these are true acts of 'Biuty'.
A second thought is that Uxbal is quite a study into the Christ archetype, the messianic hero. He is totally human, full of failings and earthliness. But he is also a savior. He rescues his vulnerable children. He gives everything for others. He even possesses supernatural powers. Eventually he succumbs to death, like the Christ figure, very early. I think there is MUCH more that could be interpreted down this line....Just a few thoughts. I look forward to reading more from your web page.

Anonymous said...

i saw this movie it was very good but the story was confusing

Anonymous said...

I also interpreted the face on the ceiling as Ige--I just assumed it was her since that's who spoke to him but the image was dark & fleeting. I love hearing that others thought it was Uxbal, but he wasn't quite dead so that doesn't fit well for me.
I definitely believe the man in the snow was his son, for the same reasons others posted, but the fact that the movie ends with him asking, What's over there?, or something like that, makes me think it could be his father, guiding him in the after life.
One other thing: Weren't we expecting the Chinese woman or some of the other Chinese workers to appear to Uxbal after they died? Or is the point that they carried no guilt/blame and subsequently had no unfinished business?

Anonymous said...

The man in the snow was definitely Uxbal's father. In the picture they showed of the father, he was standing in that same forest in the snow. Also, Uxbal was dead when he was recounting the story of the ring and the radio to his daughter - she has the same psychic gift that he has.

FishNipples89 said...

Here's how it is:

the soul apparition near the end of the movie when Uxbal is leaving the restroom is actually that of Uxbal himself. The video clearly shows a facial similarity to Uxbal, and it was meant to indicate Uxbal's detachment from his human vessel and his afterlife unrest to be inevitable as it appeared to him while he was still alive.

The young man in the snow forest is actually Mateo. The picture of Uxbal's father shows similarities to a grown-up Mateo, but it is actually Mateo putting his father's soul to rest. When Mateo speaks to his father about the "wind" and the "sea", it proves to Uxbal that his belief of Mateo forgetting him did not become a true reality as Ana more than likely spoke to Mateo later of their father's dying words. Yes, Uxbal's mouth never did move as he was speaking in his death bed, but it was obvious that the children were blessed with the same psychic power as Uxbal had. Ana was obviously speaking to Uxbal's sprit in the final scenes.

Also, the young man in the forest could also be considered to be Mateo when he is seen smoking a cigarette as Mateo had been said to have begun doing since he was 7 (as stated by his mother when explaining the burnt mattress situation to Uxbal). The beginning and the ending scene of the snow forest could also be considered to be that of the Pyrenees mountain range where Ana had been taken for her 10th birthday by her mom. Mateo was there to put his father's soul to rest and visit the area along with his father as he did not have the chance to when he was younger.

As to Ige's return, if you believe in what I have said about Mateo being the young man in the forest, Ige's return would be considered to have been real when we see Mateo now as a grown young man in the snow forest.

The beginning and the ending scene are clearly indicative of the name of the movie. How? In a scene during the movie, Uxbal saw Ana's drawn picture of the Pyrenees being described as "biutiful". The movie began and ended in the Biutiful mountain range of the Pyrenees.

This is obviously a magnificent movie demonstrating the perseverance of the human soul as Uxbal continued to fight, despite causing more harm than good in most cases, for everyone but himself. The one good outcome of his efforts was clearly of that in allowing Ige stay in his apartment (despite the fact that she only did so because Uxbal contributed in Samuel's -Ige's husband- deportation).

Awesome movie.

FishNipples89 said...

Oh, almost forgot.

It clearly is Mateo as indicative of Uxbal's facial expressions when being described the sounds of the "winds" and the "sea"; Uxbal showed great happiness.

When Uxbal asks "what's over there?" at the end of the movie, it was him moving on from his unrest and finally setting aside his worries for his children to grow up properly and finally getting the chance to take in the "biutiful" views of the Pyrenees. This is proven by how Uxbal was forced to cancel his trip to the Pyrenees the first time because of his situation with the deceased Chinese.

Yet again, awesome movie. Definitely 5 star worthy.

Anonymous said...

Good movie. Thanks for clarifying things Fishnipple89.

Anonymous said...

I've gotta say, I've never even considered that the man in the forest could be Mateo, as he looks like Uxbal's father, and is dressed in the same clothes as in the photograph Uxbal has of his father in the forest.

Having said that, the conversation about the owl lends weight to the interpretation that is is Mateo.

I wonder if even Innaritu knows for sure...

Anonymous said...

I came here looking for some ideas as to if it was Uxbals father or Mateo in the end of the movie and I ended up catching a few things that I missed. Great movie, will rewatch when I have the time.

Anonymous said...

Hey, now I've read all this I have one comment, the man in the snow I think it was Mateo, but Uxbal had to imagine him as grown up, and the best way for that was thinking that he would look like Uxbal's father... in the logic of the movie, people only "stay" in this world for short time after they die (since Uxbal wanted to apologize to Ili the chinese girl and he couldn't cause she was "already gone")... therefore the man in the snow couldn't have been Uxbal's father if it was an actual trance with the movie's logic. The smoking thing, the snow and the owl comment are things related to Mateo. This might have been a "timeless" presence of Mateo with the gift, helping him through the trance or only something Uxbal needed and imagined it. Also I notced that Uxbal kept a lot of money, he said that there was money for way more than a year of rent when he spoke to Ige (before that dialogue it was not specific how much money he handled)... I do not know if IƱarritu did this on purpose, but the same way Uxbal had a problem letting that money flow through the needs of himself and his family, he had the same problem with a healthy flow of urine :S

FishNipples89 said...

Good observation, last-commenter, but I believe that Lili (the deceased chinese mother) had "moved on" shortly after because she did not have anything against Uxbal because it was obvious that, although he bought the cheapest heaters for the sake of saving money for himself, he had also done it so they would not be sick and have a warm place to sleep.

The proving point: the spirits disappeared when their bodies had been removed from the cellar. The spirits might have moved along with their physical bodies to the sea...which kinda explains why Uxbal states that he's afraid of what lies deep within in the ocean...(the spirits of the Chinese that washed upon the shore).

Maybe Innatu didn't mean all of this that's discussed here in this web page...but that's the magic of the movie. You make it "biutiful" in your own eyes by how you decide to perceive it. I've thoroughly thought all of this out and have made the movie become one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, if not the most beautiful.

I actually think I'll name my children Mateo (boy) or Biutiful (girl) when I'm older haha

message me if you wish to discuss anything else considering I hardly ever check back at this page myself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much to all the comments, as I really missed the boat on this one. I thought the man in the forest was the devil.

Alexis Nicheporuck said...

I'm almost certain that the owl is an analogy for Uxbal. The owl is an animal of vision--it sees in the dark what no other animals could see. This resonates back to Uxbal who, whilst still in the human world, can see what no other humans can see. My interpretation is supported by the fact that at the end of the movie, the last thing that "spirit Uxbal" looks at before he leaves earth is his own body as it lays next to his daughter. Next thing you know, he's in a snowy forest staring at a dead owl. I'm pretty sure this is the symbol behind the owl.

Anonymous said...

Oh my I've been looking for an answer to the owl question for a long while perhaps you found it. I adore the movie and was moved in every direction, love, life, longing, forgiveness, peace, joy, pain, suffering, remembering, strength, resolve, and death?

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to have read these comments. I guess I wan't as confused as I thought I was; however, didn't anyone else see what I think is Uxbal's spirit walk past the bathroom mirror before "he" does to go talk to his daughter? Then at would mean he'd passed before...

Anonymous said...

we have rechecked the film and have returned with these findings.
1. ige seems to return, she enters and the noise of the door close is heard, her voice is heard when she confirms it is her. it is late and it is possible she too returns unhappy to admit she is caught in this situation.
2. Mateo is asleep in the last scene in the same room,his reflection is depicted in the mirror, he did return from school.
3. the man in the forest IS the father, he is the person depicted in the photos viewed earlier in the film. and this scene is a realisation of the promise bea makes to Uxbal. that he will be able to meet his father again after his death.
4. the symbolism of the owl: the owl was honored as the keeper of spirits who had passed from one plane to another. Often myth indicates the owl accompanying a spirit to the underworld - winging it's newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit.
5. the person against the ceiling in the final scene is Uxbal, transcending from life to death stage.
6. opinion: even if the ending is merely a bit positive, it is depicting the miserable situation and life choices that are not often enough made correct, even when the intentions are good and the fragility of the situation is eminent( Ige could have left all the same ). it is not a feel good film , but it is a film that makes you think. one has to search for answers about good and bad and survival, and the limited capacity of the human to truly grow out of a bad situation.

Anonymous said...

After watching this movie and reading the posts seeking clarification, I believe the spirit on the ceiling near the end of movie is Igne. Spirits in the movie only appear when a body has passed over, and Uxbal is still alive, although nearing the end. Yes, she did return and responded to Uxbal's question and entered the kitchen. Then, we hear a clunk and a ghostly figure pass back across the bathroom window without any sound of footsteps. Is it possible she has electrocuted herself by the fridge short circuit. There are many mentions of this electrical problem throughout the film and I can't see why the director would keep reminding the viewer of this condition. Althought, I did not a super deluxe high res viewing machine, the spirit on the ceiling appeared black with big white eyes, as Ige; not as an rather large man, the Spaniard.

Anonymous said...

I'm really confused, but your comments makes me feel less alone.

Anonymous said...

This is a powerful film about fatherhood; Uxbal's father, to Uxbal, to Ana and Mateo.
Also why the scene of the one Chinese lover having killed the other?
Does a relationship that does not produce family not survive?

Duncan Strathie said...

Thanks for these really helpful comments. This is a great film which provokes many questions. let's keep asking them.

jarred brown said...

I'm not sure why peope are refuting the figure on the ceiling NOT being Uxbal. You clearly see his face up there. As Uxbal himself walks out of the bathroom, he looks up at the figure and sort of looks away like he doesnt want to face what he just saw.

Also I strongly believe the man in the snow is his father. He has the same outfit on when Uxbal uncovers him in the morgue.

Anonymous said...

I guess I missed most of the movie. I didn't notice spirits anywhere. I was wondering about one quick scene. Was Ige's husband in Senegal in a bedroom standing in front of a dead, bloody body on the bed? I couldn't understand. I don't remember the Chinese man killing his lover. Is that who I saw?

Rambutan Ketum said...

Last poster: what did you watch actually? Best you rewatch it. No point explaining you the bits here.

As for the movie...its great. Im here for the sane reason as anyone else. Finding out who is who. But prior to that i already had his father as the snow guy and after reading im sure. Well at least in my opinion. My findings here are assurance whether Ige did get back to the house. And the person on the ceiling IS Uxbal.

On the sides...try rewatch and watch the part whe he was counting his money from the socks. Pay attention to his reflection in the mirror and his real face. In the mirror, he is looking at himself counting money.

Another is when he just got off getting money or paying to someone. Where he was coughin sick or something and was pressing against a door with glass reflection. You will see that its either his reflection moves first or he moves and the other lags a little.

I believe this details are done intentionally. Depicting his sickness and death itself.

Loving it.

Anonymous said...

What was there in the ceiling? Everytime while Uxbal was sleeping he looked at the ceiling and find that some black creature like structure, whose going on increasing day by day and at last when he die there is nothing in the ceiling. What was that?

Anonymous said...

Just finished watching myself, and like everyone else, wanted to get someone else's opinion of what was going on.

I love how we aren't made aware of who is speaking in the opening scene and it is repeated with images in the final scene. In my humble opinion, the man in the snow is Uxbal's father, the likeness to the body of Uxbal's father in the morgue gave me this impression. I remember thinking when we were shown the fathers face, how realistic it looked and it must have been a real human used, who popped up again at the end!

Also, we are told during the film that Uxbal's father died after fleeing Spain and Franco, and him dying from pneumonia in Mexico. This for me is a strong indicator that the man in the snow is Uxbal's father. Add in the fact Uxbal is following the man to see "what is over there" and that would indicate it being his father.

Also, as he never met his father and has no actual memories to remember him by, he reverts to a memory had with his own son Mateo. It was one of the few instances in the movie he smiled or laughed, when being told that by his son Mateo, so could be a reasonable "father/son" memory to imagine for his own father?

Fantastic movie, and really made me think, can imagine me thinking about this one for days!!

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