Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is known for weaving multiple themes into his movies, and his Oscar-nominated Biutiful (for best foreign film and best actor) is no exception. In a terrific example of art imitating life, Iñárritu poignantly weaves in story lines about illegal immigration. Iñárritu’s social commentary and art is broad and “big themed,” but he doesn’t preach; he lets the story unfold, and the viewer can decide what it all means. As someone who writes about immigration issues, I found the immigration themes in Biutiful particularly thought-provoking. While in the U.S. we’re focused on the myriad issues related to mass unchecked illegal immigration here, the film is a reminder that this is a global problem. “People are crossing the globe in unprecedented numbers, with more than 200 million living outside their home countries,” reported The Arizona Republic. “That figure has grown by more than 40 percent in the past decade.” Biutiful unfolds in Spain, a country that for years took in immigrants with a series of amnesties. But when the economy collapsed, the country began trying to close its borders, according to the newspaper. Biutiful is set in Barcelona – although Iñárritu has said it just as easily could have been set in Los Angeles, Mexico City or New York City – and the illegal immigrants in it are from China and Senegal. In preparing for the film, the director did extensive research, interviewing hundreds of Chinese immigrants and accompanying police who were in pursuit of criminals exploiting Chinese immigrant workers in sweatshops. Some of the people he met in the course of his research ended up in the film, and some were living through similar challenges to those of characters in Biutiful. This included Diaryatou Daff, a recent immigrant from Senegal, who landed the key role in the film of Ige over hundreds of others. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Iñárritu talked about how Daff helps support 33 people in her home country. The actress who had not seen her child in three years had an emotional breakdown during filming. “I realized after a lot of research about the amount of immigration and suffering with it, that this is the slavery of the 21st century,”said Iñárritu in a New York Magazine interview. The main character of Biutiful is Uxbal (played by Javier Bardem) who is a “handler” and “fixer” of sorts, dealing in human labor and working as a bridge between the Senegalese and Chinese immigrant communities, and the corrupt police. He’s probably the most sympathetic and likable petty criminal to come to screen – more likely to be a priest or community organizer if given the right support. There’s much ambiguity here. Is Uxbal helping people, or is he exploiting them? Hurting or helping? When talking with average people about the issue of illegal immigration, that seems to be the crux of opposing positions held. Perhaps if we could develop a better understanding of what truly is hurting and what is helping than we could create realistic solutions and smart immigration policy.