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CANNES, France (Reuters) - Death stalks the cast of "Biutiful," Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's moving portrayal of a father rushing to put his chaotic life in order before it is too late.
Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem plays the central role in a Spanish-language drama set in the back streets of Barcelona, where immigrant workers live in squalor and struggle to survive in a world where they are treated like animals.
Bardem's character Uxbal is part criminal hustler, part clairvoyant who has visions of people beyond their grave, but he is above all a father whose two children are torn between him and their negligent, clinically depressed mother.
Warm applause and plenty of tears at a press screening on Monday at the Cannes film festival, where the movie is in the main competition, suggest it is one of the early favorites for awards, with Bardem in the frame for best actor.
Asked how he found the experience of playing a man troubled by ghosts, ill health and the mess of his personal and professional life, Bardem replied:
"You've seen the movie, right? It's intense. So the process has been very intense, but it's been also very rewarding in the sense of going to places where an actor has to grow up as a professional."
He added: "This is ... intense, but there is hope in every gesture that he does toward the human beings that surround him, the kids, the immigrants the wife."
It is Inarritu's first film since "Babel" four years ago, and the simple narrative in a single city is a striking contrast to the globe-spanning, multiple threads of that story.
"I was so exhausted after globe-trotting around the world that I promised to myself that I would be doing a simple film," Inarritu told reporters at a press conference.
"I said I want one guy, one point of view in one neighborhood and no more Japanese-Moroccan-English. I want my own language ... It was not easier. I think it's as difficult as any film I have done."
The filmmaker, nominated for an Oscar for Babel, said death was a subject he explored in all of his movies.
"As anybody else I am terrified by it. The more you grow, you question yourself and you realize how close you are. I have the clock ticking and that probably triggered in me some fears and questions and some things that I can answer making films."
He added, however, that despite the darkness of Biutiful, it was "the most hopeful of my films by far."
He took a swipe at mainstream movie making which he said did not represent reality in a meaningful way.
"This film is a truly intimate experience. It's so close that people feel threatened. Intimate is now the new punk that is provocative.
"We have been getting so far away from each other that when you present something human, about human emotions, everybody says 'Oh that's depressing' because nobody is even able to recognize themselves."
He added that people refused to face up to aging and dying.
"We are sick, the society is really sick, we are going in the wrong direction."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato