The Morelia International Film Festival opened here Saturday night with a lavish inaugural screening and the Mexican premiere of "Biutiful," the new film by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that is picked to represent Mexico at the 2011 Academy Awards.
The latest feature by Inarritu, director of "Babel," is another sobering look at the struggles of migrants in a globalized world. "Biutiful" stars Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem as Uxbal, who lives in a poor Barcelona neighborhood where he handles money and illegal work for African and Chinese migrants. Bardem's character, who also lives with the ability to communicate with the recently dead, must suddenly confront his own imminent passing.
The story, characteristic of Inarritu's other films such as "Amores Perros," is violent and filled with human despair.
That "Biutiful" was not filmed in Mexico, does not take place in Mexico and is a co-production with companies in Spain has sparked debate over whether it was a suitable choice to represent this country at the next Oscars. Inarritu, addressing reporters at a news conference Saturday afternoon, said his film is a story about a man and his love for his two children, as well as a journey toward death, therefore making it a universal film that transcends conventional borders.
He also compared his work to that of legendary Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel.
"Sixty years ago Bunuel came to Mexico and filmed 'Los Olvidados' ['The Forgotten Ones'], and now I get to go to Spain and film the forgotten ones, who are the migrants," Inarritu said.
The Morelia festival, now in its eighth year, has quickly built a profile as the most prestigious and sought-after platform for new cinema in Mexico. This year's invited special guests include celebrated filmmaker Terry Gilliam. Morelia, the capital of Michoacan state, has a sparkling colonial core with 17th century churches and lush plazas and parks. The festival is packed with screenings, round-table events, exhibits and parties, and runs through Oct. 24.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Morelia, Mexico
Photo: Actor Javier Bardem, seated, and filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, standing at right, on the set of the film "Biutiful." Credit: Menage Atroz films