By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood May 17, 2010 at 4:10AM
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is nothing if not consistent. Over his career--until now, working closely with non-linear novelist/scenarist Guillermo Arriaga--he has crafted a series of films (Amores perros, 21 Grams, Babel) about people in trouble who behave badly, who are in terrible pain. His camera (in this case, wielded by frequent collaborator Rodrigo Prieto) moves freely, swirling around his characters and boring in on their inner thoughts, seeking emotion, emotion, emotion. That's Gonzalez Inarritu's great passion.
Check out the clip (filmed by Jeffrey Wells) below of the press conference: Gonzalez Inarritu and star Javier Bardem explain what they were trying to do.
Breaking up with Arriaga was a serious wrench. The director shot this simple linear Spanish-language film from his own story (co-written with Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone) not in Mexico (which his producers may live to regret for reasons of cost) but in the slums of Barcelona. He pushed Javier Bardem to plumb the depths of low-life street thug Uxbal, who is raising two kids alone and acts as a telepathic medium for the bereaved and their loved ones. I dived right into this chaotic milieu, caring for the guy. After he starts pissing blood and receives a cancer death scare, he must figure out how to put his life in order. He still loves his bi-polar party-girl wife (newcomer Maricel Alvarez), but can't trust her with his two kids or his sleazy brother (Eduard Fernandez). Bardem carries the movie with a bravura, moving performance.
The movie follows Bardem as he runs through winding narrow streets, cramped hovels, funeral homes, hospitals and strip clubs, meeting doctors, bribing police, and haggling with street dealers and sweatshop overlords. The film's images of flocks of birds, a dead owl, moths and ghosts collecting on a mossy ceiling, chimneys belching smoke and crashing waves--along with Gustavo Santaolalla's score--also add layers of feeling.
Truth be told, while the press screening played well Monday morning, a swatch of American critics reacted negatively to this movie, which does not lend itself to rigorous writerly examination. I found more supporters among the foreign press. Biutiful is almost feminine in its associative, intuitive, non-intellectual construction. Here's Screen and indieWIRE.
The film faces serious obstacles. It's expensive, some $
45 25 million, and its backers will want some decent change from the North American market, which they will not get. (They may need to put up some P & A.) This movie will be lucky to land a micro-distributor, much less Sony Pictures Classics or Focus (which is selling the film internationally and had not seen the film before Cannes), which will wait for the price to come down. A movie like this needs a tsunami of critical praise to draw any audience at all. It will be lucky to pass the $1 million mark in the U.S.
While Mike Leigh's Another Year (also Focus International) is rigorously depressing, it depicts aging, wine-guzzling, disappointed lower-middle-class sods that most of us can relate to. And most important, it has critics on its side and should land a release slot, partly on the strength of Lesley Manville's performance. (UPDATE: Sony Pictures Classics has purchased the film.) And even if Bardem also delivers an award-worthy role, who will pay for an Oscar campaign? That could come from a rising player like Oscilloscope, willing to make a splash to brand their company. Or new National Geographic Film chief Daniel Battsek, who is trawling for films in Cannes--and this film fits the Nat Geo humanistic mandate like a glove.