Biutiful: Starring Javier Bardem–Interview with Director Inarritu–Part 1

Biutiful: Interview with Director Innaritu

Part One
After having globe?trotted with Babel, I thought I had explored enough multiple lines, fractured structures and crossing narratives. Each of the films I have made has been shot in a different language, in a different country. At the end of Babel, I was so exhausted I made it a point that my next film would be about just one character, with one point of view, in one single city, with a straight narrative line and in my own native language.
Using a musical analogy, if Babelwas an opera, Biutiful is a requiem. . . and here I am. Biutiful is all that I haven’t done: a linear story whose characters shape the narrative in an unexploredgenre for me: the tragedy.
Humble Permanence
Biutiful for me is a reflection akin to our brief and humble permanence in this life. Our existence, short?lived as the flicker of a star, only reveals to us its ineffable brevity once we are close to death. Recently, I thought of my own death. Where do we go and what do we transform into when we die? Into the memory of others. This is the anguishing and dizzying race against time that Uxbal faces. What does a man do in his final days of life? Does he dedicate himself to living or to dying? Perhaps Kurosawa was right when he said our dreams of transcendence are just that: an illusion. Regardless, since the film’s inception, I was never interested in making a movie about death, but a reflection in and about life when our inevitable loss of it occurs. Modern society suffers, among many things, from a profound thanatophobia.
Sordid Poem
For this reason, I realize the formal and thematical contradiction of creating a sordid poem about an enlightened man while he is falling into the darkness of death and the unknown is a challenge. I say contradictory because while the internal spiral of Uxbal goes towards his interior and the spiritual, the urgency of this new social and political reality of Europe stretches his external spiral towards the opposite direction. The news reports statistics of hundreds of millions of people dying and exploited inside these human beehives that form in the suburbs of every European city. The vertiginous and vacuousness of this news is difficult to metabolize. The hard reality of the poor, the immigrants, the ones who are always invisible.
Upon visiting Barcelona in 2007, the character of Uxbal told me he belonged to this world. For me, individualizing only one of these realities was worth the trip. For many people, what appears to be an extreme reality, for them is only a natural part of their existences and the ordinary of their day to day. Many of the characters were played by non?actors and had lives parallel to the world of the film. But how did all this arise?
How Biutiful Began
A film for me always begins with something very vague ?? a bit of a conversation, a glimpse of a scene through a car window, a shaft of light or some music notes. Biutiful started on a cold autumn morning in 2006 while my kids and I were preparing breakfast and I randomly played a CD of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G Major. Some months before, I had played the same Ravel piano concerto during a family car trip from Los Angeles to the Telluride Film Festival. The scenery of the Four Corners area was breathtaking but after the Ravel piece finished, both of my kids started to cry at the same time. The melancholic quality, the sense of sadness and beauty that this piece of music contains was overwhelming for them. My kids couldn’t take it or explain it. They just felt it. When they heard that Ravel piano again that morning, they both asked me to stop the CD. They remembered very clearly the emotional impact and how that music moved them.
Character knocking on my head
That same morning, a character knocked on my head’s door and said: “Hola, my name is Uxbal.” During the next three years, I would spend my life with him. I didn’t know what he wanted, who he was or where he was going. He was dismissive and full of contradictions. But to be honest, I knew how I wanted to present him and how I wanted to finish with him. Yes, I just had the beginning and the end.
Barcelona, Queen of Europe
It wasn’t until one year later, while I was walking in the El Raval section of Barcelona, that everything made sense. Barcelona is the queen of Europe. She is indeed beautiful, but like every queen, she also has a much more interesting side than the obvious and sometimes boring, bourgeois beauty that every tourist and postcard photographer has admired. Since I was 17 years old and traveled around the world working in a cargo ship as a floor cleaner, I have been attracted to, curious about and fascinated by the neighborhoods that are hidden and that nobody sees. That’s what I respond to. And I am talking about the diverse, complex, marginal and multiethnic new world that has been recently created in Barcelona and most of the big cities of Europe. It would have been impossible to imagine this when I first came to Barcelona at 17. But now, immediately, I knew that Uxbal belonged to this place, I knew he belonged to this eclectic and vibrant community that is reshaping the world.
During the 1960’s, Franco promoted and brought to Catalonia hundred of thousands of people from different parts of Spain, trying to disrupt the Catalan culture, and prohibited them from speaking the Catalan language. In the midst of a huge economic recession, the astilian?speaking people ?? mostly from Extremadura, Andalucia and Murcia became immigrants in their own country. They were assigned to a suburb of Barcelona called Santa Coloma and they became known as “Charnegos,” a derogatory word that refers to poor immigrants and their children. With the returning strength of the economy during the 80’s and the 90’s, the “Charnegos” started leaving Santa Coloma and immigrants from all over the world started filling it. Even though El Raval, known as the Barrio Chino, is famous for being Barcelona’s most diverse neighborhood, it was Santa Coloma and nearby Badalona, that I fell in love with. Here, Senegalese, Chinese, Pakistanis, Gypsies, Romanians and Indonesians all live together in peace without a problem and each one speaks their own language without a need or worry of integrating into Spain.
Migrations and Racial Mix
And to be frank, it seems the society is not very interested in integrating them either. This is a neighborhood that has not been pasteurized. It is human, it smells and has texture and contradictions. It is a real example of “convivencia” – of community ?? and has the DNA of a perfect UN. The migrations and racial mixes that in the past took 300 years have been experienced here in just 25 years. Of course it’s not devoid of pain and tragedy.
Every year, hundreds of African people die from drowning trying to get to the coast of Spain. The images are hard to watch. Also, almost every day you see in the newspapers articles about Chinese immigrants being abused or exploited all around Europe.
Just in the UK, there are one million Chinese people, as Hsiao?Hung Pai writes in Chinese whispers: The True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labor. Unlike in the US, the people don’t come to European cities to blend into a culture. The research I did tells me that most people come here in order to survive and to help the ones they left behind.
But more than this interesting sociological phenomenon happening in Barcelona and most European cities, it was the emotional impact it had on me that I found as a great context for the story of Biutiful. Although I am a privileged one, I am an immigrant and I have been for ten years. The immigrant conscience or geographical orphanage is a state of mind. In Biutiful, there are no grand occurrences. Only the individualization of the difficult every day life of one of the hundreds of millions of modern day slaves that live in this shadow and this light.
At the end of the day, when a film is not a document, it is a dream. And as a dreamer, you are always alone, as a painter is alone with a white canvas. And to be alone is to ask questions (as Goddard once said ) . . . and to make films is to answer them. I wrote a meticulous biography of each one of the characters. I did it for the Chinese and the African characters, too. Each one should have a past and a reason and not only be utilitarian characters. I did this in order to know them well and also to help the actors understand where they had come from. Uxbal was born as a Charnego” and he is one of the 10% Castilian?speaking people who stayed in Santa Coloma. The immigrants are not alien to him. He grew up with them. He works with them. Walking in that neighborhood on a Sunday is a physical, spiritual and emotional experience. You can see Gypsies singing in groups in the streets, while Muslims pray at the park or chant through the speaker of a little mosque, and a Catholic church is full of Chinese people. I wanted this story to be that same kind of physical, spiritual and emotional journey.