Opening 10 Mar 2011
Alejandro González Inárritu
Writing credits: Alejandro González Ińárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo
Principal actors: Javier Bardem, Maricel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib, Guillermo Estrella, Cheikh Ndiaye
Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a poor, uneducated man in Barcelona. He has the responsibility for his two school-aged children after their mother was diagnosed as bi-polar and therefore, incompetent to raise children. She lives alone and works as a prostitute, including occasional visits to Uxbal’s rich brother, Tito. Still the small family interacts, and the children have a relatively normal life; their strict father Uxbal makes sure that they will become responsible people with a good education and a better life, contrary to all the adults around them.
His illegal job entails interaction between entrepreneurs and exploited illegal workers from Senegal and China as well as the corrupt police. This is risky business, and the stakes are high and often collapse, e.g., when the police arrest Africans selling cheap goods on the streets or Asians do not survive in their close living quarters or money does not flow. The difference between Uxbal and his bosses is that he actually cares about people and wants to do the right thing. He also seems to have a talent for speaking to corpses in the afterworld and delivering messages to the families. He has a huge heart and nothing to look forward to except that some day it will stop beating. He shares his problems with an older woman named Bea who can only agree that there is no solution.
This Mexican-U.S. film by Alejandro González Ińárritu (who also wrote the script) is a milieu study in that we follow the desperate life of Uxbal and, in the end, nothing has changed for better or worse. My German colleague said, “Oh, you Americans (meaning me) always have to have a light at the end of the tunnel.” It’s true that I wonder why I watch people suffer for 147 minutes when there is no hope and death is an improvement. Perhaps Javier Bardem is the answer. He is so extraordinary, so excellent and entirely believable, that he fills the screen the entire time up to his last breath (for which he won best actor in Cannes 2010). Ińárritu is familiar with the area of Barcelona and the people portrayed, which makes the story absolutely believable but nonetheless sad. Occasional small human kindnesses such as Uxbal giving a home to an African mother who then includes his kids in her love make human existence meaningful. Otherwise, we could all go shoot ourselves. (Becky Tan)