Happy Birthday, Alejandro González Iñárritu!

Someone posed a question on Twitter not long ago, a question I didn't have an answer for as it asked to name a director we liked every single movie from. I first thought of Steve McQueen but then remembered how he ruined it with the good and yet flawed Widows. Definitely not Christopher Nolan as I'm yet to see some of his films and didn't adore all of those I've seen. And the same goes for the amazing Taika Waititi as I'm yet to watch Boy. It's only after rewatching Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) that it hit me, it's Alejandro González Iñárritu. In fact, the Mexican director is the only one that has made me feel an incredibly wide range of emotions throughout the years, mostly pain, with films that if are not masterpieces come very close to it. For his 57th birthday, which is today, I embarked on the journey of rewatching all of his films, and attempt to write something decent to celebrate him. 

Born in Mexico City on August 15, 1963, Iñárritu left home at age 16, after being expelled from school, to be a commercial sailor, taking several transatlantic trips that would later have a great influence on him as a filmmaker as well as visiting places that will later become the settings to his films. 

Ultimately, he was persuaded to complete his education and, after majoring in communications at Universidad Iberoamericana, one of the most prestigious private Mexican universities, he began his career as a radio host for one of Mexico's most famous rock stations, WFM, where he interviewed big artists such as Elton John, and Carlos Santana, as well as pieced together playlists and wrote small audio stories. He later became the youngest producer for Televisa, Mexico's largest media company. 

Iñárritu also composed music during his time at WFM and, from 1987 to 1989, composed scores for six Mexican films. This is when he became acquainted with Guillermo Arriaga, the Mexican writer who would later write Iñárritu’s Death Trilogy, a series of films exploring the butterfly effect. But it’s only after creating production company Z Films and writing, producing and directing short films and advertisements throughout the 90s that he directed his first feature film, Amores perros.

Co-written with Arriaga, the first film of the Death Trilogy tells with a non-linear narrative the stories of  Octavio (Gael García Bernal), a young man who enters his dog into the world of dogfighting to raise enough money to run away with his sister-in-law (Vanessa Bauche); Valeria (Goya Toledo), a model who sees her life turned upside down when she injures her left leg; and El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), a mysterious homeless man and hitman who cares for stray dogs. Violent, angry, and yet thought-provoking and poetic, it explores themes of death, hopes, dreams, and loyalty, and uses dogs to perfectly represent its characters — furious and angry with no respect for life in Octavio's story; naive and helpless like Valeria; and seeking for redemption like El Chivo. The acting is downright terrific, and Gustavo Santaolalla's score and Rodrigo Prieto's harrowing cinematography really convey Mexico City's brutality. 

Three years later, after the success of Amores perros, Iñárritu ventured into English-language cinema with 21 Grams. Written by Arriaga, this second feature once again tells a non-linear story by the point of view of three characters — Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) a born-again Christian ex-convict whose faith will be tested; Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a critically ill mathematics professor whose wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) wants him to donate his sperm so that she can have his baby even if he dies; and Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), a recovering drug addict who now lives a normal suburban life with her supportive husband and two daughters. Once again masterfully exploring themes of life, death, and love, 21 Grams is a heartbreaking film from start to finish. From Watts and del Toro's mesmerizing performances to Santaolalla's dramatic score that perfectly blends with the story making the film even more devastating to Prieto's cinematography, it is impossible to look away. 

Iñárritu's third film as well as the final chapter of his Death Trilogy, Babel is the most ambitious of the three with its $25 million budget. Once again co-written with Arriaga, the non-linear narrative follows multiple stories taking place in different countries and continents — in Morocco, a kid, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid), tests a hunting rifle by shooting at a tourist bus, hitting an American woman, Susan (Cate Blanchett), on a vacation with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt); in the United States, upon learning of Susan's injury, Mexican nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza) is forced to bring their children, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), to her son's wedding in Mexico; in Japan, Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi), a rebellious teenage girl who is deaf and mute struggles with being rejected while the police are apparently still investigating her father (Kōji Yakusho) for her mother's death.
Very much like the previous two films, Babel is a heartwrenching film from start to finish. While the theme of death is still explored, this final film shifts its focus on themes of globalization, inequality and prejudice, cultural and language miscommunication, the powerlessness to control the events that happen in one's life, and love. Enhancing the story's drama is the beautiful, haunting, Oscar-winning score by Santaolalla and Prieto's stunning cinematography. The acting is yet again terrific, the best performances coming from supporting actresses Adriana Barraza — who is at her second collaboration with the director — and Rinko Kikuchi, the first Japanese actress to get nominated for an Oscar.

Sadly, Babel marked the end of Iñárritu and Arriaga's collaboration. And with it ended the theme of death. His fourth film, the first in Spanish since his debut film Amores perros, is, in fact, not about death, but about life. Iñárritu's first film with a linear story, Biutiful tells the story of Uxbal (Javier Bardem), a Barcelona criminal and single father of two whose world slowly falls apart after he is diagnosed with prostate cancer. Once again Iñárritu takes a beautiful city, Barcelona in this case, and shows the ugly, poor, sad reality of its outskirts, a reality we are not used to associating with the cheerful, festive Spanish city. But Biutiful isn't not only about poverty, hunger, and suffering, it's also a hymn to life, love, and family — Uxbal and his daughter Ana (Hanaa Bouchaib) sharing one of the most poignant father-and-daughter moments in films. Robbed of the Best Actor Oscar, Bardem is a force to be reckoned with as he effortlessly carries the film and delivers his character's emotional and physical pain to perfection with a raw and mesmerizing performance, and he makes more than clear that he's a loving dad first and foremost. Prieto's cinematography is yet again stunning and provides a beautiful and yet depressing backdrop to the story, and Santaolalla's score yet again adds to the story's drama.

It then started Iñárritu's Hollywood phase when he directed, and co-wrote with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Academy Award Best Picture winner, the film follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a faded Hollywood actor best known for playing the superhero "Birdman", as he struggles to make his Broadway adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver. It is a dark comedy that explores ego and art, and life imitating the latter. It is a continuous contradiction of opinions about truth — Edward Norton's Mike is truthful onstage and a liar offstage, while Naomi Watts's Lesley believes honesty can only be found offstage. Riggan thinks social media is all fake and takes away authenticity from everything and everyone, while his daughter, Emma Stone's Sam, believes it's what gives one true power. And ultimately, it is Riggan's way of proving not only to his audience but to himself that he is an artist and does exist apart from the character that made him. While the acting is outstanding — Emma Stone was so robbed of an Oscar that year — the most striking aspect of the film is Emmanuel Lubezki's Oscar-nominated cinematography. Shot in a way that the film appears to be one long, continuous shot with no edits, it carries us through the action and makes us feel as if we are inside the film.

2015 was the year of Iñárritu's first epic film, The Revenant, the film that would finally reward Leonardo DiCaprio with an Oscar. Based in parts on a true story, next.php (1×1)Iñárritu's latest film tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), an American explored who is brutally attacked by a bear and then left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), a member of his own hunting crew who also kills Glass's son (Forrest Goodluck). Risen from his grave, Glass sets out on a quest of revenge, enduring unimaginable pain as he navigates a vicious winter and faces native Americans. 

This is a film that could have easily been yet another revenge flick but Iñárritu makes it much more than that as The Revenant is a deep, immersive cinematic experience that, yes, tells a tale of revenge and redemption, but also creates a visceral and aesthetic contrast between beauty and violence as we watch the gorgeous landscapes and scenery blend with the brutal story. It is a film that puts everyone on the same level, as both men and animals are both victims and perpetrators.

The Revenant is arguably Iñárritu’s most visually stunning film too. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki took upon his biggest challenge yet by shooting in freezing conditions and only using natural light, a challenge that hugely paid off as not only it is breathtakingly beautiful but makes the film more immersive and visceral, and makes you feel like you’re witnessing something really happening. As for the performances, Leonardo DiCaprio’s is one of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s not a single frame where he fails to convey his character’s feelings and emotions, and he does it almost entirely through facial expression and body language.

“To make a film is easy; to make a good film is war. To make a very good film is a miracle.” once said Iñárritu himself. He has made six so far, so it's only fair to call him a god. 


  1. Inarritu is awesome though I had issues with Biutiful due to its sluggish pacing and how extremely bleak it was (though I do love bleakness but it was a little much for me). Still, I'm eager for what he will do next.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that as Biutiful is one of my favourites.