Sean Penn left little doubt as to whom he’s backing for best actor in the Oscar race when he moderated a Q&A at a  packed screening of “Biutiful,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s searing new movie starring Javier Bardem. Hosted by SAG Film Society, the event took place at the Directors Guild of America theater in Los Angeles.

Similar to Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent hosting of a “Blue Valentine” screening, Oscar-winner Penn used his star power to shine a light on potential best actor nominee Bardem. Bardem won the best actor award at the Cannes FIlm Festival in May for the role. He’s a previous best supporting actor Oscar winner for “No Country for Old Men.”

Penn praised the immense depth and humanity the Spanish actor brought to the story of a dying hustler manuevering through Barcelona’s underbelly. His character traffics bootlegged goods, made by undocumented Chinese sweat shop workers, through Senegalese street vendors, also in Spain illegally. He’s also raising two small children, having gained sole custody from his bi-polar ex wife.  The movie is Mexico’s submission for best foreign language film.

Penn, who has spent the better part of the past year in Haiti leading humanitarian efforts following January’s devastating earthquake and it was clear that the inhumane conditions experienced by the immigrant underclass in “Biutiful” resonated deeply with him. So much so that he asked the audience how the film making community could spread the message of the film and become a more socially conscious collective as a whole.

Not surprisingly, there were no answers on that front, but both Bardem and Inarritu provided some insight into the film that Bardem jokingly called “the feel-good movie of the year.”

“The movie is about compassion,” Bardem said. “In the mind, if we feel numb there’s no hope.” He admitted the five-month shoot was often brutal. “[Alejandro] likes to go to the bone of it. He proposed to me a life experience, not just a performance, and now we’re back. Thank goodness.”

The shoot “was intense as hell. It took us places we didn’t want to go,” Inarritu admitted.

Bardem’s character, Uxbal, appeared to the writer/director and, in many ways, dictated the story’s outline. “The first idea is the guy is dying and the rest followed,” Inarritu said. “This is a journey of Uxbal enlightening himself and finding his humanity.”

"Biutiful" opens in limited release on Dec. 29th.
 

Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter @MelindaNewman

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