1 Star – Degrading
The dark underworld of those who traffic in human beings is difficult to watch. The modern forms of slavery currently imprison an estimated 27 million people in various ways from economic, sexual or military bondage. But what is not as obvious is that those who abuse their fellow human beings are equally degraded themselves as they live on the same underside of life that they require their slaves to inhabit. However, this fact is clearly demonstrated in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film “Biutiful.”
Filmed in Spain, and deserving of its R rating for explicit violence and nudity, the main character of this subtitled film is Uxbal (Javier Bardem). Himself a prisoner of poverty, Uxbal is the handler of a group of Chinese people who are locked away in the basement of their factory at night and a group of African people who sell the factory’s products as they dwell as squatters in the alleys of their city. What makes this business arrangement work is the greed of Hai (Chen Tai Shen). As a Chinese businessman, he has turned on his fellow immigrants and used their dreams against them. But it is also Uxbal’s willingness to take a cut of the money Hai makes off of enslaving them that makes the whole business work.
The story becomes more complex as we enter Uxbal’s personal pain and seeming compassion for those he uses. Having two children he dearly loves, Uxbal is a single dad because of the mental illness of his wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez). As a person battling a bipolar disorder, Marambra enters manic states that cause her to behave in ways that betray their marriage. This causes their children Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) and Mateo (Guillermo Estrella) to be innocent victims in a similar way as the people Uxbal helps to enslave.
Although powerfully told and helpful in revealing the underside of human slavery, it is difficult to recommend this film. The results of the slavery are painful to watch, and virtually every person is imprisoned by some lust or greed. This is seen not only in the murderous homosexual relationship of Hai and Liwei (Luo Jin) but also in the degradation of Uxbal’s brother, Tito (Eduard Fernandez), as he is shown in a strip club which debases and objectifies both the dancers and the patrons. This pain is also seen in Uxbal as his only spirituality is expressed in his ability to contact the dead and he has no sense of God, explaining that he doesn’t know how to pray or who to pray to.
“Biutiful” is obviously a play on the word as the film presents a world without beauty and absent of any real joy. If that is necessary to see before we are motivated to do something about the millions who are enslaved, then perhaps this film can be part of the solution by exposing the truth. But it shows such a darkly degrading view of humanity that we do not recommend it to anyone.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The truth that slavery is a part of our global economy means that many of us are actually purchasing products made by slaves. What are you willing to do to help end this degrading reality?
2. Becoming enslaved by greed and lust is clearly demonstrated by this film. Have you ever harmed another human being because of either your greed or lust?
3. In the end of the film, where do you think Uxbal has gone? Why do you answer as you do?