Go on, men, admit it! There’s
a part of you that would prefer to be free from practically all
entanglements. You don’t get
up early every day and dress up and go to work for “The Man.”
You don’t have to put up with somebody in your household who tries
to tell you what to do. You
love your kids, of course, and want to see them regularly, but you aren’t
into baby-sitting, tending toward the irascible when faced with the everyday
grind of actually raising them. You
don’t really want to pay taxes, either, and the way you manage is that is
that all your business transactions are cash, under the table. Yeah, there
may be a few shady deals in there, but hey, you’re just trying to make a
living here. Yes, the
modern-day urban rebel without a cause.
Oh, and you hate going to doctors, too, for fear they’ll tell you
don’t want to hear.
Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, the harried street hustler whose time is
running out on him. He finally
relents and seeks medical advice when the pain becomes so unbearable he
needs something really strong to endure it.
Of course, there’s a reason he’s in so much agony: he has
terminal cancer, and it’s already spread, and because it’s gone
untreated for so long, the prognosis is fatal.
The thing that grieves him is not so much the prospect of the sudden
end of his days, but the fact that he has two little children, a daughter
(about ten) and a son (about seven), and unfortunately their mother,
Marambra (Maricel Alvarez), is a mess.
She’s bipolar, and doesn’t like to take her medicine, because she
feels she doesn’t need it any more. And yet she has lost custody of her
children, because she has too often abandoned them while preoccupied
elsewhere. She makes some money
as a “massage therapist” (and the quotation marks are intentional), one
of her most regular customers being Uxbal’s brother, Tito (Eduard
Fernandez), a profligate and a sleazeball, who is happy to help lead her
down the path of promiscuity and dissipation.
Uxbal makes his own money by taking his cut dealing with illegal
immigrants. There’s a Chinese
sweatshop clothing factory, where the hapless workers are shuffled off to a
concrete-floored storeroom at night to cram into sleeping quarters without
even any heat, and Uxbal employs one of the women to watch his kids after
school until he can pick them up. There
are street merchants from Senegal, selling their wares on carpet mats on the
sidewalk, dodging the police, and Uxbal takes a cut from them, also, and in
turn bribes a policeman to leave them alone, but that turns out to be
crooked money invested unwisely: the
corrupt cop takes the cash, and the raid happens, anyway.
Uxbal feels sorry for a young Sengalese mother with a nursing child
whose husband was hauled off to prison, and offers his own apartment to her
while he tries to move back in with his ex-wife, at her insistent pleadings
that “she’s better now,” but Uxbal doesn’t tell anyone about his
deteriorating health condition. His
daughter, the sensitive one, soon realizes there’s something wrong.
And she’s as worried about her future as a reasonable child would
Meanwhile, Uxbal starts thinking more and more about his father, who
also died young, when Uxbal was still a child, and Uxbal tries to tell his
children what little he remembers about him.
Uxbal claims he has a gift, that he can listen to the recently-dead
and convey messages to their grieving loved ones from “the other world,”
but some suspect him of being an unconscionable charlatan, preying upon the
freshly-grieving, and we wonder about that, also, but somehow we believe
that in his own mind, at least, Uxbal is sincere.
And we start to develop a grudging affection for him because in his
own way, on his own terms, he is trying as hard as he can.
But he knows it’s just not enough.
And so do we.
Javier Bardem is hauntingly genuine in this role.
This Spanish film is glacially-paced, in places, for impatient
American audiences, but Oscar-nominated (“
”) Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has again introduced us to
desperate underworlds beyond our awareness, and we are richer for it.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace