Iñárritu Delivers A '360-Degree Emotional Experience' In 'The Revenant'
Last year filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu won the best picture, best director and best screenplay Oscars forBirdman. His new film, set to open Christmas Day, is already getting Oscar buzz. The Revenant is a Western, set in the American frontier in 1823. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as legendary explorer Hugh Glass. In the harsh, icy American wilderness, he gets mauled by a grizzly bear. A fellow fur trapper murders Glass' son and then buries Glass alive, leaving him to die. The movie chronicles the hero's struggle to survive, bent on revenge.
Iñárritu says The Revenant is about endurance, resilience and the love between father and son. He wants viewers to feel what it is to "be broken and isolated and be dead and reborn again."
We were submerged in the same odyssey that these trappers were.
Nature is also a main character in the story. Iñárritu says he shot his film chronologically, using only natural sunlight and firelight in remote areas of Canada and Argentina. "Every molecule of this film was absolutely difficult," he says. For 11 months they were "at the mercy of the low temperatures, and different conditions that changed seven times a day."
There was sometimes a 25-degree difference between the temperature in the morning and the temperature at night. The crew endured rain, snow, wind and sun. "We were submerged in the same odyssey that these trappers were," the director says.
Shooting the movie opened Iñárritu's eyes to climate change in a very real way. "I saw the difference between 1 degree — which is between ice and water," he says.
In an interview provided by 20th Century Fox, DiCaprio says Iñárritu wanted to "create poetry" in this story. He says he admires the director and his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki.
"I think what they quite uniquely achieve is this almost virtual reality, where you really feel like you're out in the elements with these characters," DiCaprio says. "You really feel immersed in their lives. But he's also able to have that camera move all the way through the wilderness, but stop at a very intimate moment with the character and then travel on. So you almost feel like some strange, delusional wanderer watching all this chaos ensue. And you get the visual perspective of a character in the movie, almost."
Sometimes DiCaprio's breath fogs the camera lens. Other shots are long scenes of the river rushing by, or wind rustling through the trees. The camera also weaves through battle scenes.
"We choreograph all this very meticulously," Iñárritu says. "There's this beautiful dance between the camera and the actor, and even animals, and avalanches, and mountains. ... These long takes are extremely exciting and it creates a dramatic tension."
The result is a "360-degree emotional experience," he says.
Iñárritu and Lubezki also played with the camera for Birdman, filmed to seem like one long, continuous shot. Michael Keaton played a washed-up superhero actor in that film. He told TV host Jimmy Kimmel that he admired Iñárritu for being a demanding perfectionist.
"He's an artist," Keaton said. "I joke — I call him a madman — 'cause he is a madman, but he's an artist and you want to follow guys like that into the jungle."
Iñárritu's first feature film in 2000, Amores Perros, was filled with the frenetic energy of his hometown, Mexico City. Director Guillermo del Toro says he helped out in the editing booth.
"Even back then, in his first film, it was quite evident to me that the guy was quite a brilliant filmmaker," del Toro says.
Del Toro says he, Iñárritu and another Oscar-winning director, Alfonso Cuarón, often collaborate behind the scenes. For a time, the "tres amigos" — as the three Mexican directors were known — had a production company called Cha Cha Cha Films. They've been outspoken politically, defending Mexican immigrants in the U.S.
In the time they've known each other, del Toro says, his friend Iñárritu has matured as a filmmaker.
"His first movies depended enormously on a chain of tragedies," del Toro says. "And I think with Birdman and Revenant, he is truly more curious about character. He is also very interested in the small moments. His sense of motion and action and his sense of place and character is almost like combat photography done by a virtuoso."
The soundtrack of The Revenant mixes beats with DiCaprio's breaths. Iñárritu says each of his films — Amores Perros, Babel, Biutiful, Birdman and this — have their own rhythm and tempo. It's something he first learned to appreciate as a radio DJ in Mexico City in the 1980s.
"I think there's a cosmic order, and everything is musical," he says.
When he riffs about making movies he sounds like a jazz musician.
"Cinema's an ocean," he says. "We filmmakers, we go out with our boats as sailors and we are just navigating a couple of waves. So you find a wave and you try to survive, then the next one. And every time you approach it different depending on the wind. ... How we can tell stories about humans in a cinematic spectacular way — it's a process. I'm still finding out."
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