If you took Ikiru, added a dash of The Sixth Sense, a dollop of A Woman Under the Influence, and then topped it off with a pinch of El Norte, you might end up with something resembling Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful. This isn’t the first time Iñárritu has taken a buffet-style approach to storytelling. In his previous features, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, he and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga built a brand around their multicharacter/overlapping/achronological storytelling, and though each of those films yielded successively diminishing artistic returns, Iñárritu and Arriaga steadily ascended to the top ranks of international cinema. The craft in those movies is easily discernible, and their intentions—their many intentions—are unmissable: even the most sober-minded critic would have a hard time denying the emotional intensity and the occasional beauty of Iñárritu’s movies, and, likewise, even the most superficial thinker should come away from them thinking they’re about something—human connection, race, class, anomie, globalization. Whether they’re saying anything coherent or compelling about those ideas is another matter. Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, like Biutiful in its way, strain to make tenuous narrative connections amongst disparate characters separated by geography and social position, while striving to reveal a certain kind of atomization that, in this collaborative vision, defines contemporary life. Read Chris Wisniewski’s review of Biutiful.