In a nutshell: a peek into the abyss – don’t stand too close to the edge when you’re reaching for your peanuts.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Like De Niro in his heyday, and more recently Christian Bale, Javier Bardem is an actor prepared to suffer for his art: in No Country For Old Men he sported an outrageously bad pudding-basin haircut and in Biutiful he’s got the kind of mullet Jason Donovan would have died for (and which probably still haunts his dreams). He even gets to wear it in a ponytail. But for Bardem’s character in Biutiful the suffering doesn’t end there.

The film’s narrative is more or less a descent into hell for Uxbal, the middle-aged hustler played by Bardem. Set in a Barcelona that is far from the sophisticated European destination of the average mini-break, it’s a stark depiction of an illegal immigrant underclass, for which Uxbal brokers various forms of employment, and of one man’s life spiralling out of control even as it begins to end. Early on Uxbal is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer (cue grim scenes of bloody urine and incontinence) and the film documents his decline as he attempts to shore up his children’s security and deal with the lingering aftermath of his failed marriage while staging scenes of mounting dissipation and, ultimately, tragedy.

Written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Biutiful is a combination of fragmentary narrative and dirty realism, with a spiritual thread running through it. There’s no easy redemption on offer here though, and the film is emotionally draining but oddly rewarding. Not perhaps the best Sunday evening in – it left me with a nagging, school-on-Monday sense of melancholia – but raw and watchable all the same.

Reviewer: TomRidge

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