In summer, it's easy to define "beautiful." Sunshine and green grass, leafy trees, running water, laughter, warmth. The poets compare their loves to summer's days.
But it's winter now. Winter can be beautiful, too. Before we enjoy snowy landscapes and glinting icicles, we must experience the barren landscapes, the leafless trees, the grey skies and brown, dead plants. In early winter, it's hard to see beauty.
Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful lives into life's early winter, a world of brokenness and a man who isn't ready to leave it. Uxbal (Javier Bardem) can see his own life is ebbing; he's been diagnosed with an advanced, aggressive, untreatable cancer, something he must endure while making a living on the shadier side of Barcelona, finding work for illegal immigrants, but often among the unscrupulous.
His ex-wife Marambra (Maricel Alvarez) is emotionally and perhaps mentally unstable, and his brother Tito (Eduard Fernandez) is a bit underhanded. Their father's body has been exhumed and shipped across an ocean to them—a father they never really knew—and the pain and intrigue of who he was and who that makes them is full of hurt. But his two young children are, quite literally, the light of his life: he never smiles except around them.
You can see in Uxbal's pained eyes that he cares deeply about everyone his life touches—from Marambra to the immigrants he works with—but as small mistakes begin to unwind and irrevocably ruin those around him in ways he can't anticipate, he is gripped by the fear that his own children will be hurt, too, in a world full of cruelty and injustice. He can't let go. He doesn't want to tell his children that he is going to leave them soon.