The first Mexican director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, Alejandro G. Inarritu once again challenges the boundaries of cinema with his latest project, “Birdman.”
In the dark comedy, Inarritu mocks the superficiality of today’s films and what he calls “celebrity kind of disease” by crafting a post-modern masterpiece layered with parody and cinematic mischief. The film follows frustrated Riggan (Michael Keaton), an actor past his prime whose singular fame was limited by his long-ago superhero role, Birdman. Determined to win back his acting credentials, he gambles his last savings on a Broadway play that he will act in and direct.
Keaton’s role as Batman in the early ’90s parallels Riggan’s Birdman role. Similarly, Edward Norton’s character, Mike, who costars in Riggan’s play and suffers from emotional explosions, nods to Norton’s previous role as the Hulk in 2008. Surprisingly, Inarritu says these castings were coincidences.
“I never chose them for that reason only, but I knew that it will be attached to the film in a funny way, and it will work because it’s part of the meta value or meta reality of the film,” Iñárritu said. “We were laughing at ourselves as we [were] doing the film about the industry that we are in, so we were reflected, so that was very funny.”
Making the film was technically demanding and required a clear unification of objectives among the actors and key departments, which Inarritu likens to “crossing the twin towers.”
“We were walking the wire, and so, it was exhilarating,” he said.
“Birdman” was shot in only 29 days. Using 360-degree camera rotations that followed the action in an almost continuous single shot, it relied heavily on special LED lighting and on the experience of “Gravity” cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The single-shot highlights the lengthy self-exploration required of Riggan while paying for and mounting a play. It is also a commentary on the rigorous lifestyle actors can handle but are not often asked to endure.
Inarritu proves that dynamism trumps pre-set categories by simultaneously serving as writer, director and producer. His characters likewise defy labeling by straddling multi-faceted lives. Emma Stone plays a dual role as Riggan’s daughter and assistant, Sam, and whose previous real-life roles include a comic book character, Gwen Stacey, Spiderman’s girlfriend.
Inarritu says he too at times became frustrated, but used the film as a learning experience like his characters.
“In a way, sometimes I was feeling like Riggan in the film … that everything was going wrong,” he said. “But I let it go because I couldn’t do nothing more than be patient.”
Like his pioneering character, Inarritu also makes bold decisions, choosing purposefully to avoid influence from other Broadway plays or contemporary movies.
As a society obsessed with categorization, we quickly sentence our heroes to a labeled destiny. But “Birdman” makes us think twice and leaves us with an optimistic message: if we try hard, we can overcome our own boundaries and discover the layers of our being.
An advance screening for “Birdman” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27 at the Regal Cinemas South Beach Stadium 18 Movie Theater. To access free tickets, visit http://www.