“My tongue is divided into two / a border patrol runs through the middle,” writes the El Salvadoran poet Quiqué Aviles, in a poem about immigrating to America. The physical dangers of crossing borders and the psychological fissioning required to do it are the subject of Carne y Arena (Flesh and Sand), a powerful virtual-reality installation by the Mexican director Alejandro Iñárritu.
Research for the installation began after Iñárritu’s 2006 film, Babel—a thriller that travels between Morocco, Japan, the United States, and Mexico. But as Iñárritu experimented with virtual-reality (V.R.) technology and interviewed Mexican and Central American refugees, his success as a filmmaker continued to mount: in 2015 and 2016, for Birdman and The Revenant, he won back-to-back Oscars for best director. In 2017, Carne y Arena was completed, and it quickly debuted at Cannes, where it was the first V.R. installation to be featured at the festival. That same year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Iñárritu with a special-achievement award—a rare accolade that has been given only 17 times—citing the way Carne y Arena “opened for us new doors of cinematic perception,” then Academy president John Bailey said.