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Q&A With Alejandro González Iñárritu

The Mexican director explores death, bipolarity and fatherhood in his latest film

En español | Q. This isn’t exactly an image of Spain that the tourist bureau would approve of. Why did you decide to go this route?

A. This is not a film about Barcelona. It was shot in Barcelona, finding the contradictions of the city, finding this reality, I thought it was an amazing context. It’s a global problem, the new slavery of the 21st century, immigration. There is a part of every city in the world that has become an open market superficially painted with these stereotyped Western aesthetic values. All the cities are starting to look alike, but it’s just a part of the city. Every city is dealing with the same trouble; it’s a bipolarity of the reality of the world we are living in with the immigration problem. That reality is so clear; I didn’t have to search a lot. 

Q. Do any of the themes in the film — death, bipolarity, fatherhood — resonate in your own life?

A. Yes. I exposed myself naked there. These are things close to me in a personal way. I have a father who is very sick and I am close to, and there are bipolar experiences in the family, and I fear death. You confront it yourself when you have kids, you think about it every time you take a plane.

Q. You like films with intertwining storylines. Why is that?

A. In this case, I tried to get out of the multilinear film, and I tried to make it from one single character’s point of view. This is the person who creates the ripples in other people’s lives. My instinct is in doing a circular structure, which I think has to do with my appetite of being curious about the people around somebody and seeing how everyone is connected. I was trying to explore how many people this guy was attached to and all the people who depend on him.

Q. What is working with Bardem like? What’s his process?

A. It’s very meticulous. He had a lot of questions, he wants to know everything, and once he submerges he submerges for real. He was really living the part. He went into another kind of stage psychologically, and it was painful for him and for me. This material is not the kind of material that you shoot in the morning and you shake it out at night. It was a long shoot, and it was hitting us emotionally.

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