Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu does not make films that are easily digested. His friends and contemporaries, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo Del Toro, apply a lighter touch to their dark storylines, unafraid of stylistic cinematic escapism. But Inarritu clings harshly to his gritty realistic approach, this time with a film that is more inaccessible and alienating than anything in his impressive oeuvre.

Javier Bardem stars as Uxbal, a man for whom everything that can go wrong does. Surviving in the gritty underworld of modern Barcelona, Uxbal is a middleman in an industry that manufactures fake luxury items. He organizes the illegal smuggling of Chinese sweatshop workers and African sidewalk vendors looking to profit from tourists — of course, such a business is fraught with tragedies. On top of his volatile professional life, he is separated from a bipolar wife and struggles to bring up his innocent and loving children. Oh, and he’s also dying of cancer with only weeks left to live.