Uxbal lives in a shabby apartment in Barcelona with his two young children, Ana and Mateo. He is separated from their mother Marambra, who is a woman suffering from alcoholism and bipolar disorder and 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 solicits 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 a psychic medium 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, as the cheap gas heaters Uxbal bought in an effort to help 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.