The film was nominated for two Academy Awards in 2011: Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor for Javier Bardem. Bardem's nomination makes his performance the first entirely Spanish-language performance to be nominated for that award. Bardem also received the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his work on the film.
Uxbal lives in a shabby apartment in Barcelona with his two young children, Ana and Mateo. He is separated from their mother Marambra, a woman suffering from alcoholism and bipolar disorder who works as a prostitute. Having grown up an orphan, Uxbal has no family other than his more wealthy brother Tito, who works in the construction business (and sometimes use the services of Marambra). Uxbal earns a living by procuring work for illegal immigrants, a group of Chinese who make forged designer goods which a group of African street vendors then sell. He is supposedly able to talk to the dead and is sometimes paid for passing on messages from the recently deceased at wakes and funerals. When he is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer leaving him with only a few months to live, his world progressively falls apart.
Uxbal initially begins chemotherapy, but he later ends the treatment at the advice of his friend and alternative healer Bea. She also gives him two black stones which she asks him to give his children before he dies. The group of Africans are brutally arrested by the police, despite Uxbal's regular payment of bribes, because they also deal in drugs. When one of them is deported back to Senegal, Uxbal offers his wife Ige and baby son a room in his apartment. Meanwhile, an attempt at reconciliation with Marambra fails when Uxbal realizes she cannot be trusted to look after their children. As the Chinese are out of work, Tito brokers a deal to get them employed at a construction site. However, almost all of them die in the night from carbon monoxide poisoning, because the cheap gas heaters Uxbal bought were not safe. An attempt by a human trafficker to dump the bodies into the sea fails when they are washed up on the shore shortly after, causing a media sensation.
As Uxbal's health continues to deteriorate, he is plagued with guilt that he is responsible for the expulsion of the Senegalese and the death of the Chinese. With his death drawing nearer, he realizes that there will be nobody to take care of Ana and Mateo once he is gone. He entrusts the remainder of his savings to Ige, asking her to stay with the children after his death. She accepts his request but later decides to use the money to return to Africa. At the railway station she changes her mind, however, and returns to the apartment. Knowing that Ige will now take care of his children, Uxbal lies down next to Ana and, after having passed on to her a diamond ring which his father had once given to his mother, he dies. In a snowy winter landscape he is reunited with his father, who died before Uxbal's birth shortly after having fled Spain for Mexico during the Franco regime.Javier Bardem as Uxbal
Luo Jin as Li Wei
Maricel Álvarez as Marambra
Hanaa Bouchaib as Ana
Guillermo Estrella as Mateo
Diaryatou Daff as Ige
Taishen Cheng as Hai
Nasser Saleh as Muchacho
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reports 64% of critics featured on the site gave a positive review of the film at an average rating of 6.4/10 based on 143 reviews. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter calls the film, "a gorgeous melancholy tone poem about love, fatherhood and guilt", and describes Bardem’s performance as "...a knockout." Betsy Sharkey of the LA Times wrote, "Bardem gives a performance of staggering depth, unquestionably one of the year’s best." At Metacritic, the film has received an average score of 58, translating to "mixed or average reviews." Some dismissed the story as too bleak; Justin Chang of Variety wrote Iñárritu is "...stuck in a grim rut."
Biutiful grossed $4,576,349 in the Spanish box office and $20,571,437 overseas for a worldwide total of $25,147,786.
The film competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. It premiered at Cannes on 17 May 2010, with Bardem winning for Best Actor, an award shared with Elio Germano for La Nostra Vita. On 17 December 2010, the film was named Best Foreign Language Film of 2010 at the 17th Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards.
On 25 January 2011, the film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards while Javier Bardem received a nomination for Best Actor. The film was also nominated for the 64th British Academy Film Awards for Best Film Not in the English Language, while Javier Bardem was nominated for Best Actor. Biutiful received eight nominations for the 25th Goya Awards; Best Actor for Javier Bardem, Best Supporting Actor for Eduard Fernández, Best Supporting Actress for Ana Wagener, Best Original Screenplay for Alejandro González Iñárritu, Armando Bó, Jr. and Nicolás Giacobone, Best Cinematography for Rodrigo Prieto, Best Editing for Stephen Mirrione, Best Art Direction for Brigitte Broch and Best Original Score for Gustavo Santaolalla.
The film was also nominated at the 16th Critics' Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the 68th Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Film, but lost to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and In a Better World, respectively.