At Cannes: Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful Reinvention

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who rankled critics with his films 21 Grams and Babel (especially), has directed the best film shown so far at the festival. Biutiful stars Javier Bardem as a financially struggling, cancer-stricken father of two ensnared by his illness, a bipolar wife and his bleak day-to-day existence.

Uxbal (Bardem) is a rough-hewn, perpetually scheming man with a few pretty good gigs: When he's not being paid to channel the dead -- he goes to funeral homes to hold the hands of the deceased to report back to their loved ones -- he's fronting a group of African immigrants selling knock-off designer handbags in the streets of Barcelona. Since the police are paid off, Uxbal is free to send his salesmen out on the streets, where they hawk fake Vuitton handbags and leather goods. After several bouts of severe abdominal pain, Uxbal sees a doctor who eventually delivers bad news: Uxbal's got late-stage cancer and few months to live, at most. He doesn't share the news with his estranged, bipolar wife, instead trudging through his life, trying to prepare his children for his death.

Iñárritu is not known for his subtlety as a director. Both 21 Grams and Babel were ham-handed films, pasted thick with the interconnectedness of the human condition, and the viewer had little need to let the stories unfold organically.

The director himself admits that he's through with that kind of storytelling. "I have explored enough multiple structures and story lines and exercises of narrative," he said at the film's press conference. "I was tired of that. I wanted to go into linear storytelling."


In Biutiful, Iñárritu has thankfully shed himself of the need for hand-holding when it comes to storytelling. The film is spare, and Bardem's performance -- reminiscent of his turn as dying writer Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel's 2000 film Before Night Falls -- is one of the finest of his career.

Rather than spanning multiple cultures, as he did with his previous two films, Iñárritu was glad to make a film in his native Spanish. Iñárritu said, "I was so exhausted after globetrotting that I promised myself that I would be doing a simple film: One guy, one point of view, in one neighborhood. No more Japanese, Moroccan, English -- after 10 years [making these films], I want my own language."

Judging by the critical reaction around the Croisette so far, Iñárritu made the right decision.