In line with the release of Iñárritu’s new film The Revenant, we are launching a recurring feature in which we pick who we think is a key figure of cinema and revisit his/her most noteworthy titles—hence the name “Essentials”. Our man Kayo Jolongbayan looks back and discusses the films of the Hispanic cinema champion, Alejandro González Iñárritu.
In an industry where diversity is still a taboo, three geniuses from Latin America are making names in the Hollywood filmmaking scene: Guillermo Del Toro, who made Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Crimson Peak; Alfonso Cuarón, the master behind Children of Men and Gravity; and Alejandro González Iñárritu, the director behind the Oscar-nominated film The Revenant.
Collectively known as “The Three Amigos”, these directors have received their fair share of acclaim and are considered some of the finest filmmakers working today. Of course, the man of the hour is Iñárritu.
Fresh from his Oscar-winning film Birdman, Iñárritu offers another masterpiece, this time about survival and revenge. But he has always been an Oscar darling way before that. The fact that all (yes, repeat it with me: ALL) of his films have been recognized by the Academy in the past tells much about this amigo’s talent.
Let’s take a tour of this brilliant Hispanic filmmaker’s previous efforts. Vamonos, amigos!
The Trilogy of Death
Pre-Birdman, Iñárritu had been known for his “Trilogy of Death” consisting of three films—duh!—that were released from 2000 to 2006.
Opening a new decade, Iñárritu’s debut film Amores Perros is an anthology film that tells three interconnected stories of six individuals who are all linked by a traumatic and nearly fatal car accident.
Internationally titled Love’s a Bitch, Amores Perros has received widespread critical acclaim from both critics and audiences, resulting in an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s gritty and unsettling in the same vein that Pulp Fiction is as far as storytelling structure goes. This is perhaps, in my opinion, the best work Iñárritu has ever done. The way he dissects the characters in each segment is a lesson in anatomy—first you peel the skin, and then the flesh, one after another, until the characters’ souls are bare naked right in front of you. Amores Perros is a compelling study of human emotions, and a fairly depressing one.
Three years later, Iñárritu follows up with 21 Grams. Much like his debut film, it is also told in a nonlinear fashion and tackles three individuals dealing with grief and redemption after a horrible car accident.
Set in America and featuring an English-speaking cast—Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro—21 Grams is much like Amores Perros, only less bleak and dark. Instead, Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga settle into soap-opera territory, ultimately cutting some genuine emotional threads to hold a much longer melodramatic chord. Although not as critically well-received as his first film, 21 Grams still has managed to earn Oscars recognition for both Watts and Del Toro.
Perhaps the most divisive among this three films is the 2006 drama Babel. Using the same formula of nonlinear and multi-narrative storytelling, the film is about different individuals from different countries who encounter problems due to respective language barriers—hence the title, based on the biblical tale of “The Tower of Babel”.
With an all-star cast led by Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Gael Garcia Bernal, and with some strong support from Adrianna Barazza and then newcomer Rinko Kikuchi, Babel highlights the director’s greatest strength—his ability to handle an ensemble of actors and bring out the best in them. The hurdle of it being quite a mess on occasions, because of its limited time in developing its stories, becomes palatable because of its memorable ensemble.
The film won three awards in Cannes, including the coveted Best Director trophy for Iñárritu, as well as a number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Supporting Actress for both Kikuchi and Barraza.
After three collaborations, Iñárritu calls off the working relationship with his regular screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga. In 2010, he made Biutiful, a film he also co-wrote with Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone. The film marks his return to Spanish-language filmmaking. It features a terrific, Oscar-worthy performance by Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a loving father trapped in the perils of underground crime and his hard-edged pursuit of redemption.
Unlike his Arriaga collaborations, Biutiful has a much more straightforward storyline. But the dark and depressing tone in Iñárritu previous films is still evident here, with Bardem giving some of the best acting I have seen in the decade so far.
His non-Arriaga films continue with 2014’s widely successful Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Top-billed by Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, Birdman is a film about the entertainment industry and its fast-paced world, which on its own already feels like a journey. Mexican genius Emmanuel Lubezki shot this seemingly “one-take” cinematic masterpiece, effortlessly mirroring what it feels like to be in the industry—sweeping, daring, unapologetic.
Iñárritu won three Oscars for the film, including Best Picture (as a producer), Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and the film has instantly become a cult favorite among fans.
What is your favorite Iñárritu film? Let us know on the comments below.
Catch The Revenant on cinemas starting today, February 3rd!