An Auteur Study of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Style

Title Screen

The objective…

of this study is to use the auteur model to examine Alejandro González Iñárritu’s two films: Babel (2006) and Biutiful (2010). An explanation of why Iñárritu films are truly auteurism works of art will be discussed. Techniques used in these films portray fear, human suffering, and stereotypes. Iñárritu called his films “emotional geography that the viewer can roam and relate to as a human” (Bouchaib 2011). The topics of analysis derived from this objective will cover the use of narrative structure, sound and silence, filming techniques and characterization themes that challenge the audience illustrating tragedy, changes and terror of the characters. Themes include reactions to consequences or fate and fear through sickness, injury, or loss; universal to all humans. Iñárritu presents these themes with clarity of realism that results in empathy. This study aims to prove that an Iñárritu’s films create an emotional landscape to show that there is light and beauty in the darkest human experiences that leads to transformation. The relationships with his creative personnel brings continuity between Babel and Biutiful.

Auteur criticism…

dates back to the 1920’s with French art cinema claiming as the filmmaker being the auteur (Hayward 2012). Over the centuries, many debates about others involved with the film as being auteurs. This study provides exemplary explanations why Iñárritu films are distinct and visually compelling. The creative personnel that worked on both Babel and Biutiful including:

● Director of Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
● Score Composer Gustavo Santaolalla
● Sound Designer Martín Hernández
● Film Editor Stephen Mirrione
● Production Designer Brigitte Broch
● CoProducer Ann Ruark
● Producer Jon Kilik

Rodrigo Prieto says Iñárritu allows a lot of room for proposes ideas. “It makes you feel like it’s your movie, too, and that empowers you to contribute as much as possible” (Bosley 2006). Even though the narrative structures on these two film are entirely different, many techniques and stylistic traits can be seen in both films.

Contrasting structures…

of Babel and Biutiful show that Iñárritu is not locked into a mold. His first three films, including Babel were nonlinear storylines consisting of several interlocking narratives of people affected by the actions of others. These stories were shot and disassembled and recomposed to give the narrative more sensation. Biutiful looks at a single linear story focusing on the daily actions of one character to drive the story. Iñárritu delivers both with great precision.

Babel’s hypernarrative and intertwining plot is dispersed among several countries and portrays the characters in a way that illustrates how global communications is flattening our world. This film is truly an international work, from the production people to the writer and the cast. This film examines the varying perspectives of the characters in the aftermath of a tragic accidental shooting. This film is considered the third in a trilogy and final work with writer, Guillermo Arriaga. Each story within this film focuses on the individual’s plight but their experiences become insignificant to the overall perspective during the final segment. Amelia is forced to voluntary deportation and her son, Luis, meets her. She in the same dress she was wearing at the wedding and it is only hours after she left him. Her desperation and terror can be seen in their embrace. She sees her whole world as she knows it disappear, as a consequence of one decision.

From there, the viewer is transported back to Morocco where Yusset has surrendered and his brother’s dead body is carried away. A closeup of his face reveals the terror he feels from this loss. He reflects through the only flashback of the film showing the two sharing a moment of sheer happiness. Their arms are spread against blowing on wind a mountainside. This image is mimicked earlier by the Japanese teenagers during their ecstasy trip.

This segment leads to the evacuation of Mrs. Smith by the Red Cross helicopter, producing a very different kind of wind. All the villagers are curiously looking on. Mr. Smith offers the tour guide a wad of cash; which is rejected. Mr. Smith does not understand the refusal of money and realizes that hug they just shared was a viable replacement for the nonmaterialistic man.

This scene is consistent with the other stories’ ending where the characters show signs of transformation. During these three segments, the nondiegetic musical score, discussed later, replaces dialogue because words cannot convey the emotions that Iñárritu conveys. The final emotional charge comes with Chieko and her father embracing in an understanding of empathy for each other’s loss. The final shot zooms out from the father and daughter until they are specks in the Japanese sky. Iñárritu calls this shot the “El Abandonador; in which starts with closeups of the characters, almost able to smell their skin to giving them some space to breathe and looking at them from a distance… like pulling back from a beehive” (Deleyto 2010 P. 135). This is the point where the stories all converge into showing a common theme of love overcoming obstacles and hardships. There are many open-ended situations that Iñárritu leaves to the viewer’s imagination.

Biutiful…

is a departure from Iñárritu’s previous offerings. The story was shot in chronological order by scene and focuses on one main character. Uxbal finds out he’s dying of cancer and tries to set his affairs in order. He works in the Barcelona criminal underground. His actions create chaos, terror, arrest and even death of people that trust him. His illness changes his perspective and his outlook. Even though Biutiful is linear and does not intertwine more than one plot, the narrative follows a circular story. The film’s plot is booked-ended and of the main story consist of a flashback.

The film begins with Uxbal and his daughter discussing his mother’s ring and remembering the sounds of a radio show he listened to when he was young. He gives her the ring and you can hear her saying “Papa, Papa?”. The viewer is then transported to a snowy forest where there is a dead owl. A young man appears. He discuss the fact that owls spit up hairballs when they die and tells Uxbal to take his ponytail down because it frightens the owls. The man talks about the salt water that used to be there.
Then he makes the sound of the water, then the sound of the wind and then concludes with the sounds they make together; which makes Uxbal genuinely laugh. They share a smoke and the man walks off. Uxbal asks “What’s over there?”, he follows him and the snow begins to fall.

The audience is then transported to the flashback, or the major part of the story. At the end of the movie, we see Uxbal and Anna in bed talking. After he gives her the ring, the audience sees him outside his body and knows that he has passed and the snowy sequence begins again as Anna says “Papa, Papa?” Now the audience now knows that the man is his father and he leads him into a new world.

Sound…

Iñárritu states that “sound is 50% of a film or sometimes even more” (Deleyto 2010 p. 132). The musical score is part of that percentage. The use of sound and silence to provide an emotional element that adds to the visual images onscreen. According to Routledge’s Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts states the function of music should provide a framework for the film and seal the spectator-screen relationship (Hayward 2012). “Deportation/Iguazu” from Babel begins when Emilia is told that she will be deported, continues with a flashback of the two brothers enjoying themselves and accompanies Mrs.Jones while she is being loaded into the Red Cross helicopter and ends with the doctor coming out to talk to Mr. Jones about her condition. “Composer Gustavo Santaolalla was drawn to an instrument called the ude, an ancestor to the lute and guitar, and sounding much like the Japanese instrument koto, to connect the Arab, Spanish and Japanese locations” (AFI n.d.).

The Sound Designer, Martín Hernández, provide silence as technique to garnish an emotional response to the characters. The use of silence punctuates the Japanese teenager’s, Chieko, frustration as a deafmute. There are several scenes where the audience experiences her auditory point of view, silence. The a nightclub segment provides her experience while in utter silence as sweaty dancers writhe erotically to the pounding beat. The audience relates to her terror of never being able to hear.

Biutiful’s “Meditacion#9” provides the soundbed for the strongest imagery in the film. Fretting from the deaths of the Chinese immigrants, he tells Marambra to go out of town without him. As he ends this conversion, his fate become clear to him. The image of the birds changing direction in flight provides the counterpoint image with the soundtrack. Another of Iñárritu‘s stylistic uses of sound is to show emotion without words. By providing Uxbal’s subjective perspective, the viewer can pick up on the emotions felt by him.

Babel and Biutiful’s Director of Cinematography, Rodrigo Prieto….

uses different techniques to provide emotional content through composition, camera movement, color and aspect ratios. Prieto’s use of these techniques in both films with different results to portray terror, anxiety and loss of control. Babel illustrates an example this right after Susan is shot. “The handheld camera swings wildly around the bus while framing becomes decentred and unclassical when bodies of panicking tourists obscure Susan; leading the audience confused as to what happened” (Tierney 2009).

Biutiful’s visual palette is extraordinary because it changes as the character Uxbal changes. In the beginning, the character is wound tightly. First, the handheld camera work is shaky and unstable to illustrate his anxiety and need to be in control. Once he digests the fact that he will die, he surrenders. This sets his soul free and the the way the images are captured and portrayed illustrates this freedom.
“Stability creeps into the handheld camera movements, Uxbal’s mind has expanded and is shown through use of aspect ratios” (Slater 2011). The colors of Uxbal world also morph into a pleasant palette as he nears death. The bookended segments are full of light; a contrast to his home that he just left in Barcelona.

This study of Iñárritu’s auteur style…

from Babel and Biutiful proves that his creative team is very much part of this creative output. Uses of structure, technique and sound will impact audiences and film studies for years to come. Reviewing his latest and future films will be a pleasure for this writer.

Works Cited


Authority on American Film (AFI

) (n.d.) l. Retrieved from
http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/DetailView.aspx?s=&Movie=54817.

Bosley, R. K. (2006). Forging Connections. American Cinematographer, 87(11), 3649.

Bouchaib, H., Bardem, J., Alvarez, M., Fernández, E., Daff, D., González, I. A., Bo, A., … Focus Features International (Firm). (2011). Behind Biutiful: Director’s Flip Notes. Santa Monica, Calif: Lions Gate Home Entertainment.

Deleyto, D and Azcona, M. (2010). Contemporary Film Directors : Alejandro González Iñárritu.
Champaign, IL, USA:University of Illinois Press.

Golin, S., González, I. A., Kilik, J., Arriaga, J. G., Pitt, B., Blanchett, C., García, B. G., … Paramount
Home Entertainment (Firm). (2007). Babel. Hollywood, Calif: Paramount Home Entertainment.

Hayward, S. (2012). Routledge Key Guides : Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (4th Edition) New
York: Routledge.

Slater, R. (201). Art Should Provoke: An Interview with Alejandro González Iñárritu. Retrieved from
http://www.soundsandcolours.com/subjects/film/artshouldprovokeaninterviewwithalejandrogonzalezinarritu/

Tierney, D. (2009). Alejandro González Iñárritu:director without borders. New Cinemas:Journal of Contemporary File v7.2 doi: 10.1 386/ncin.7.2.101/1

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About webagent99

Stephanie is pursuing her Master of Arts in Digital Media Studies and is currently working on her Capstone Project that focuses on Best Practices in Package Design. Stephanie served as the Graduate Representative on the University Life Council Shared Governance committee and continues to serve as the SGA Representative for the Communication and Digital Media Association. Along with her SGA involvement, Stephanie is a Heights Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry volunteer, a 2014-2015 Who's Who Among Students recipient, and a National Engaged Leader Award recipient.

Posted on August 31, 2014, in Digital Media, Film Discussion, Global Issues in a Digital Society, Music, My Projects, School, UHCL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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