Star rating – 7/10
This is one film about Barcelona that won’t have the tourist authorities there rubbing their hands in glee. Despite its title, instead of being set in the beautiful and exciting city that Gaudi helped to make so famous, it is set in the other Barcelona, in the seedy underbelly of crime, poverty, and illegal immigrants. In fact we only get to see glimpses of the awe inspiring Sagrada Familia cathedral in the distance, surrounded by cranes, and the Ramblas is featured only in a police chase.
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose previous work includes ‘Amores Perros’, this hot tip for the best foreign film Oscar in a few weeks stars the wonderful Javier Bardem, who shines when acting in his native Spanish tongue, just as brightly as when he features in Hollywood blockbusters. In fact if anything the performance he gives here as Uxbal, a man struggling to come to terms with his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer, whilst dealing with his troubled relationship with his bi-polar ex wife, and desperate to protect his two young children from the gravity of his situation.
But Uxbal is not a straightforward character, he is no heroic Hollywood single parent fighting valiantly against the odds. No, this man is much more complex. He is helping to run an illegal immigrant operation, and in league with Chinese gang masters, whose disregard for the basic of human rights has tragic if inevitable consequences. And he also possesses special powers as a psychic, able to communicate with the dead to reassure their loved ones left behind that they are at peace. And if you are wondering how all the strands of this complicated plot hang together, the answer is that they don’t very well at all. It is an overcrowded narrative, which suffers very much because of it.
This is a real shame as the acting of Bardem is truly brilliant and moving, despite the obvious flaws in his morals and lifestyle. Mention must also be made of Maricel Alvarez, who as his ex wife Marambra manages to play each of the differing extreme moods associated with her mental state with absolute conviction. The film is beautifully shot, and a master class in acting by Bardem. It is just unfortunate that the crowded plot does not really hold its own. So fantastic performances in an interesting and good, but by no means great film.