Venice has done it again. Last year, Gravity blasted the lid off the festival as the opener and today Birdman, a film that’s got a fair bit in common with that one, bowed to one of the best receptions I have ever experienced on the Lido. (It’s even trending at No. 4 on Italian Twitter.) Applause, laughter and strong emotion emanated from attendees in the refurbed Sala Darsena this morning during the first press screening. Making my way out afterwards, I heard “bellissimo” uttered at least a dozen times.
Ahead of the festival, chief Alberto Barbera told me the Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu-directed dark comedy was “inventive.” He wasn’t kidding. A scorching satire on celebrity mixed with existential musings on life, it’s being hailed as a technical tour de force and a potentially career-defining role for lead Michael Keaton as a former Hollywood star known primarily for his superhero past in the Birdman films (wink wink, Batman). One of the most astonishing things — and a big source of buzz here — is the seamless way in which Birdman is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki. Throughout almost the entire length of the film it appears as though this is one continuous take. I’d expect a lot of focus in the coming months on just how Inarritu and Lubezki managed to pull off what looks like a magic trick. No coincidence that Lubezki was also the dp on Inarritu pal Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. His work on that picture ultimately won him an Oscar, and was also hugely talked about after the first screening here last year. Gravity was not in Competition, but Birdman is, meaning it will vie for the Golden Lion on September 6.
In the film, Keaton’s Riggan Thompson is in New York mounting a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love in an attempt to gain back some credibility and confirm that he indeed exists. Birdman was shot in and around Broadway’s St. James Theatre over several weeks. Edward Norton plays a cocky star brought in to goose the box office, Emma Stone is Keaton’s rehabbing daughter, Naomi Watts is a film actress making her Broadway debut, Andrea Riseborough plays the neglected girlfriend, and Zach Galifianakis is Keaton’s best friend and lawyer. That’s all I’ll say about plot points, but here’s an excerpt from The Telegraph‘s five-star review, which attempts to put viewers in the picture: “There are streaks of 42nd Street, The Producers and Sunset Boulevard here, but otherwise, Birdman isn’t much like anything else at all. Think Black Swan directed by Mel Brooks and you’re in the vicinity, but only just.” Fox Searchlight is releasing on October 17. Here’s a look again at the trailer: