"Look in my eyes. Look at my face. Remember me, please. Don't forget me, Ana. Don't forget me, my love, please."There are few male actors of Javier Bardem's generation who could pull off such heart-wrenching vulnerability onscreen as the forty-two year old Oscar winner. From his award-winning turn as the ruthless murderer in No Country for Old Men to his sensitive portrayal as a doting dad in love in Eat, Pray, Love, Bardem's performances never fail to grab hold of the audience. Last year Bardem gave us one of his most beautifully nuanced performances to date in writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu's drama, Biutiful.
Navigating a life of crime by day and making ends meet as a single father by night, struggling to free himself from the emotional choke-hold his sad, abusive wife has on him, Uxbal (Bardem) already had a lot on his plate. Then the worst happens: he's diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Trying to remain strong as his virility slowly dissipates, he begins to worry about what will become of his two children, whose mother's (Maricel Álvarez) wild, careless nature makes her an unsuitable parent. Uxbal's money is running low, and so is his hope, as he begins to wonder whether all his bad ways may cost losing his salvation.
In the wrong actor's hands, this story could have veered off into over-acted melodrama. But with Bardem's touching performance, down to the strikingly subtle exchanges between Uxbal and his kids and the tortured exchanges with his wife, made the movie that much more gripping. There are few more despairing things to watch onscreen as a man weeping, but ironically audiences aren't made to feel devastated for him. They are far too busy praising him for the bravery of his emotions, and being captured by the beauty that is in every frame of the movie.
Although his bold performance is the centerpiece of the film, in true Iñárritu form, there are several other pieces that complete the story. While each of the other stories don't necessarily stand alone without Bardem's, as they do in other Iñárritu movies, Álvarez's smaller yet pivotal performance is a standout. Even Guillermo Estrella and Hanaa Bouchaib performances as Bardem's children Mateo and Ana and the intricate performances by Cheng Tai Shen and Luo Jin--as lovers and partners with Uxbal--are beautiful to watch. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to Biutiful.