BEVERLY HILLS, California Acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu knew he was in a bad way when the film critics who loved his drama "Biutiful" kept calling it bleak, dark and depressing.
Those adjectives scared off distributors, particularly in the United States, where the director said "everyone was really afraid of the film" about a dying man played by Javier Bardem.
It took four months to find a U.S. distributor, but now "Biutiful" is playing in major cities and is a front-runner
for best foreign language film at Sunday's Oscars, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Bardem, the Spanish Oscar winner, is nominated for best actor.
But the director of "Babel and "21 Grams" still said it was "very tough."
Gonzalez-Inarritu is the most well known of the five directors who met Saturday for a pre-Oscar symposium, but like his fellow nominees he suffers the stresses of making films far from the comforts of the Hollywood studio system.
Whether it is hard-to-digest subject matter or shoestring budgets, these directors fought some epic battles on their way to Hollywood's biggest night.
The Greek director of bizarre family drama "Dogtooth," Yorgos Lanthimos, works on a laughably low budget but now can't get state financing because of Greece's debt crisis.
Algeria's Rachid Bouchareb of "Outside the Law" had to fight to get his film screened at Cannes due to political opposition in France to his depiction of the Algerian fight for independence.
Susanne Bier, the Danish director of "In a Better World," about young boys battling bullies and split families, used her financial limitations to get a sharper focus on the boys.
Canada's Denis Villeneuve, director of the dark drama "Incendies" filmed partly in the Middle East, edited before he shot to reduce waste on the cutting room floor.
PARTICULARLY GRIM YEAR
Every year, the Oscars briefly shine their spotlight on the exotic world of foreign-language films, which often provide a departure from mainstream commercial movies and the widely palatable productions of the United States.
This year is no different. The foreign-language films up for Oscar contention are indeed bleak, dark and depressing.
In fact, of the 66 films submitted to the Academy, only one was a comedy. The day Sweden's "Simple Simon" screened for the selection committee, it was met with loud cheering, but no nomination, alas.
"What really struck me this year was what we saw in 66 movies ... a seriousness, a grimness and even bleakness that I don't remember in our recent past," said Hollywood producer Mark Johnson, chairman of the foreign language film award committee.
For Johnson, the lack of relief in these films reflects both the minds of the filmmakers and the state of the world.
On Gonzalez-Inarritu's mind was the last 75 days of a human being. He was lucky to get financial backing for the $20 million "Biutiful" when the economy was still somewhat rosy.
"I started shooting one month before the economic collapse in 2008," he said. "This film would never be financed again. A guy who is dying? It's just impossible."
(Editing by Todd Eastham)