Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu went a long way to cementing his status as a movie legend after picking up his second Best Director Oscar in a row at last night’s ceremony in Los Angeles.
Since turning 50 in 2013, the Latin American filmmaker has begun a new phase in his career that started with last year’s Best Picture winner Birdman and has continued with his most recent film, The Revenant, which scooped him the top director award on Sunday.
Iñárritu reminded the millions watching across the globe that not everyone has the same luck as him and called for an end to “all prejudice” and “tribal thinking”
They are films made by a creator obsessed with the fleetingness of time and with his own advancing years, but also by a Mexican who has conquered Hollywood at the same time as Donald Trump has been whipping up growing xenophobia across the country.
After calling for fair and dignified treatment for his compatriots when he collected his Best Director statuette for Birdman in 2015, neither did he forget about them this time, reminding the millions watching across the globe that not everyone has the same luck as him and demanding an end to “all prejudice” and “tribal thinking.”
It was a declaration that showed a filmmaker faithful to his roots and with a personality that isn’t based on the market or on political convenience, but rather a deep capacity for self-criticism.
It matters little whether or not the critics like his work. Neither do the attacks that some make leave much of a mark. In creating his works, Iñárritu fights on a daily basis with an even tougher adversary: the judge that lives inside him. Talking to EL PAÍS during the making of The Revenant, the director likened this inner voice to a member of the Inquisition, “a guy you present any case to and he sends you to be burned, a terrorist you cannot negotiate with: that internal voice is what enables me to find the primordial idea of the stories.”
It is a tension that comes across on his shoots. Watching him film, measuring the angles, mapping the path of the camera with his friend Emmanuel Luzbeki, who won his third Best Cinematography Oscar in a row on Sunday, is to witness a torture show. Making The Revenant on the shores of the Bow river, on the great Calgary plains, they form a pair in constant turmoil. With no rest, at subzero temperatures, they measure each shot precisely, arguing about it, reinventing it. And then they do it all over again.
“For me, making a film is a three-year war and, like a dog, I don’t let go”
Alejandro González Iñárritu
“I am very tough, very militant, very demanding. But I don’t demand anything I don’t give myself. For me, making a film is a three-year war and, like a dog, I don’t let go. That’s why starting a film scares me, because I am going to enter a process that I lose myself in,” Iñárritu says.
Having left behind the abuses of his earlier works, such as 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006), the filmmaker is now swimming in clear waters. In Birdman that sincerity takes the form of long and risky single-take sequences, in which nothing can be hidden. In The Revenant, it’s in the form of the crystal-clear narrative – infinite snowy landscapes and a story that moves forward in a straight line that sees newly crowned Best Actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio playing trapper Hugh Glass, struggling for survival in the 1823 wilderness and crossing the heart of a new universe, of a nation yet to define itself.
“It is a story of spiritual growth through physical pain. But it is also an adventure film, featuring great silences and spaces. It is an experiment,” Iñárritu says.
That is the challenge of The Revenant: a work where time, in classic style, takes the form of a race against the clock. Against the hostile natural world, and also against death. That clock that so obsesses Iñárritu.
English version by Nick Funnell.