Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and I both happened to be waiting for our luggage at LAX after arriving on the charter from the Telluride Film Festival Monday night. He turned to me and said he had been thinking about the interview we did the day before. His powerful film, Biutiful, was playing all weekend at the fest and we had sat down to talk Sunday about the film, about the sad state of the movie industry, and about why it took so long for a U.S. distributor to pick it up after its Cannes premiere. He told me that because of this conversation, which he said was like “therapy”, he now thinks of Biutiful as an “act of resistance” against everything that is wrong with the movie industry today. The film dealing with a father’s descent into the abyss and journey towards redemption won Best Actor for star Javier Bardem. and now continues on the fest circuit with its official North American premiere tonight in Toronto. Only recently did it finally score a U.S. distribution deal (after several rejections) with Roadside Attractions and will open just in the nick of time for Oscar consideration on December 29th. Some American press in particular have complained that the film was too dark and depressing to find an audience. Others have raved.
Whatever the reaction, Inarritu thinks the festival and awards circuit is crucial for Biutiful’s ultimate success. “For this film literally it’s a matter of life or death,” he said pointing to the lack of choices he had in even getting the film released this year. “There are very few independent distributors. Very few. It’s getting tough. This film is very fragile, it’s very delicate. One wrong message when we are competing with such big films and… I’m talking about the fact that it was this close to the film not even being distributed at all. Thanks to Roadside, I think they were very brave. The entire world was sold immediately but not the U.S. That was very shocking. Normally it was the U.S. leading the way and the other ones were the followers. Now you open it everywhere and then the U.S. watches what happens. This country is importing fewer foreign films or films that are interested in our society.”
Although it will be eligible in all categories for Oscar, the director is hoping it will also be the official foreign language film nominee from Mexico, even though it was shot in Spain. “This has to be decided by the Mexican Academy and being a co-production of Mexico and Spain and all actors being Spanish I don’t know how they will react, “ he says.The three time Oscar nominee’s last few films all had some sort of Academy attention including Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel for which he was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in 2006. He finds it is stunning how the business has changed even since then, just three years. “I think in a way the industry seems toxic and everyone ‘s getting blinded by this poison that is growing in the veins. There’s a kind of general sense of not being proud of what’s going on. Somewhere something went wrong. We have to make better films,” he says knowing that getting people to go see them is no easy task.
“It’s going to be a big shot for this film to be seen by a lot of people. I know that. I don’t know what will happen but I am very proud of it. I tried to do something I have never done. My responsibility is to make a film that people experience that will not go away very soon. We have to get the people’s heart and guts. “ As we were talking, he was stopped several times by Telluride moviegoers telling him how emotionally moved they were by Biutiful which received standing ovations there. One woman interrupted to tell Inarritu “that was a brilliant film. I haven’t stopped crying. It was painful, but in a good way”.
Inarritu says he wrote the script with Javier Bardem in mind and a year later nervously showed it to him. Bardem was attached to the movie musical Nine but knew he had to do this instead. “It almost killed us literally. For both of us it was really intense, in fact the most intense experience I have had as a filmmaker by far,” he says.
Does he want to do something more commercial next? “I have had some offers, big films, but nothing until now has interested me other than the projects I write and develop on my own… I think we are living in difficult times for filmmakers. I think I am one of the few that are able to make these films and they get distributed one way or the other,” he says.
But Inarritu still remains somewhat optimistic for the future of indie cinema. “I think things will change. Our time will come again. We are now in a dark kind of period. I have a strange feeling about what’s going on on every level and filmmakers are very scared.”