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Alejandro Iñárritu: “There is no way you can stop”

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Alejandro Iñárritu
Photo by Smallz & Raskind
Short Profile

Name: Alejandro González Iñárritu
DOB: 15 August 1963
Place of birth: Mexico City, Mexico
Occupation: Director

Mr. Iñárritu, does a filmmaker have to live his films?

I think every film in a way is an extension of yourself. No matter what. Every film that I have done is an extension of myself. Sometimes I feel that the films start blending with reality. Suddenly there’s a weird blurred line that disappears and what’s going on thematically in the film starts surrounding your life in a very real way. That has happened to me many times.

With which films specifically?

This time, with The Revenant, the physicality of the theme really became part of our daily life. The water was extremely cold; one day we were in 40 degrees below zero. The physical reality of the characters appeared in our life and blended with our own physical experience.

Why were you so committed to shooting it under such conditions?

I was really happy to get out into the wild and to get back to the tradition and the origins of cinema where things happen and we’re shooting in real places. Where we haven’t invented a way to do an artificial world around us by building sets or digitally inventing them. Suddenly the reality and the complexity of the real natural elements and the real light… It’s clear for me that no matter how good a computer or set designer is, it will never match that.

Why not?

Not only because of its complexity and beauty, but because the state of mind that it gives those doing the film. It has repercussions in the whole system, you know? I really love the experience in that sense. The odyssey of making the film became the film itself. We became the trappers, you know? It was great and it was a vast emotional experience and physical experience.

That reminds me of Herzog’s  Aguirre, the Wrath of God, where he believed the harsh conditions shooting in the Peruvian rainforest would seep through into the film.

Yeah. Herzog’s Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo were an influence to me. Or Akira Kurosawa did a film called Dersu Uzala, or even Apocalypse Now. Those films where it’s man against nature and there are those landscapes that, in a way, dictate the emotional state of the character. I really love those films.

Werner Herzog on the difficulties of shooting with Klaus Kinski.

But shooting like that can take its toll as well. During the production of Aguirre, Herzog and Klaus Kinski almost ended up killing each other as a result of the stress.

Yes, once you are there, you realize it will be ten times more difficult! The film is a result of a naïve decision that I made. I made that decision because I was absolutely blind. You really give up any chance of being comfortable and fight every day. That’s the mode. It was like rock climbing: once you are climbing a wall without a rope and you are in the middle, any mistake and you know that you fall and you will die. That’s how the sensation of this film was every day.

That sounds horrible.

It’s a little bit scary how crazy I am! It could have been terrible. Everything could have gone wrong very easily… There were so many challenges every day. You become a creature of your own work. Sometimes you are God and sometimes you are a creature. And here you are just a creature surviving your own creation. And the stakes financially, the things that can go wrong in such an ambitious project, the standards were set so high, that we were trapped. I was trapped in my own rules. I couldn’t go back; I hit a wall. And if I didn’t finish, or didn’t finish the way I wanted to, then it would be a complete disaster. It’s like a marathon—there is no way you can stop; you have to finish. You feel that you are fainting, but you have to finish!

Your career must be hard on your marriage.

I hope I’m not divorced very soon! (Laughs) It was tough. It was tough. Filmmaking demands a lot, it takes a lot of shit from you. And you are away from all the people that need you, and that’s one of the toughest parts.

“These films are not happening anymore, because most of the people involved now are financiers and their only reason to be there is profit.”

And you were already working on The Revenant when you won the Oscar for Birdman last year. Wouldn’t you say it’s time for a break?

I’ve run two marathons so I need to stop. To be honest, I haven’t had even the time to understand what happened with Birdman! It’s a very weird situation and I think I will have to rest for a couple of months and then to understand what happened in my life in the last two and a half years. Normally I take two or three years between every film so the only thing that I can really think about is to rest for the next three years. I really need it.

Does it take a mogul like Arnon Milchan—who financed Birdman and The Revenant and has previously backed films like Once Upon a Time in America and Brazil—to make these kinds of ambitious films possible?

Absolutely. You need a guy with that passion, with certain taste, who is an art lover, and crazy—in a good way— all at the same time in order to make a film like this happen.

Does everybody else worry too much about money?

That’s why these films are not happening anymore, because most of the people involved now are financiers that their only reason to be there is profit. And when everything is driven by profit, then films become a commodity or a comfortable product that doesn’t bother anybody and gets the most audience possible without… So that’s a dangerous state that we are in now. It’s only profit. I’m not naïve to think that it was different before. It’s always been like that, but now it is much more than ever.

The Revenant (2015) Trailer

In hindsight, would you choose to do a film like The Revenant the same way again?

I don’t regret having done it at all. I think everything that I went through was worth it. I am very proud. But I would not do it again. (Laughs) It was extremely difficult. Extremely, extremely demanding. It became an act of survival, honestly. As a filmmaker, I was in moments that were very difficult and challenging…

How do you find hope in those moments?

Sometimes when you lose faith and you understand that something will never be possible the way that you dreamed, but you keep trying, suddenly one thing flips and everything re-accommodates. And suddenly what was not working totally flows. When you are in a very, very tough moment of a day and a lot of frustration because nothing is happening right—but you don’t give up—and suddenly that happens! That’s almost a transcendental thing.