EXCLUSIVE: Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is in the midst of a retrospective of his great films at the Landmark this week. Partly to stoke the flames of all the Oscar nominations garnered by his romp Birdman, Fox Searchlight and New Regency have put together themed scenes from that film, playing one each night. They are divided into the themes of respect, honesty, love, truth and risk. The first played last night at a screening of his breakthrough Amores Perros. The videos can be seen below.
I spoke with Inarritu yesterday as he was driving to the obscure Calgary set of The Revenant, the serious-as-a-heart attack survival/revenge film he’s directing with Leonardo DiCaprio. This was the first time I’d sat with Inarritu since I met him and his three co-writers the morning after the New York Film Festival. They were giddy with the crowd reaction, and maybe a bit hung over from the afterparty, but they still seemed unconvinced whether audiences would find accessible the manic display of insecurity that comes from taking on an outsized ambitious goal that could lead to abject failure and embarrassment. Inarritu, who has been shooting The Revenant for six months with three to go, still seemed a bit dazzled that the channeling of his own insecurity through Michael Keaton has been so widely embraced.
“What I’ve realized is that everybody has tried and we all have failed, and those who haven’t failed haven’t tried,” he said. “It turns out there is a very universal feeling for failure, and being lost and feeling afraid. I think that’s had some impact, which makes me happy. When you open yourself and put your heart out, you take risk. If you’ve ever done group therapy, you find what you thought was only your problem, isn’t. There are hundreds, thousands of people going through the same thing, and there’s refuge in that realization of commonality. The film caught people in a way caught where it felt strangely familiar. Michael had a lot do that with that, with his humanity and ability to touch souls. That the film plays in one continued shot, which was what I wanted, also helped because it feels like a literal extension of the state of mind of this guy. It goes to a different subconscious line in the brain. When your brain perceives something is cut along the way, it greets in a more obvious way. When you continue it, you get into a flow. The visual grammar is different, and I am so very happy with the way that people are reacting.”
I ask Inarritu how it feels to part of the most wide-open Best Picture race in years, and his response was surprising. “Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been so swallowed by doing this film for the last six months, with another three to go, that I haven’t been able to see the other films, though I badly want to,” he said. “I haven’t been swallowed by all this, which might be great — or maybe not — for my ego. I did see Foxcatcher and loved it.” He was shocked by the PGA win, and appreciated the recognition for the difficulty of staging Birdman, but he came away convinced his peers were most moved by the emotional honesty.
Inarritu brought a degree of difficulty to Birdman by staging his first comedy so it seems like one continuous shot, but he’s found a more extreme high-wire act to test himself and his cast on The Revenant, which explains why it is a nine-month shoot. “We don’t finish until the end of April or May, and we are shooting very small hours,” he said. “It was planned this way, to be little-by-little jewel moments; that’s the way I designed the production. That was both to create intensity in this moments, as well as the climate conditions. We are shooting in such remote far-away locations that, by the time we arrive and have to return, we have already spent 40% of the day. But those locations are so gorgeous and so powerful, they look like they have never been touched by a human being, and that’s what I needed. The light is very reduced here in winter, and we are not shooting with any electrical lighting, just natural light. And every single scene is so difficult — emotionally, technically. I’ve gotten myself in trouble again, but I’m trying my best,” said Inarritu, once again channeling his inner Birdman. Here are the clips being shown for the retrospective: