On Saturday afternoon, I ventured to South Miami’s Sunset Place to catch a film that’s been getting significant buzz and Oscar mentions for its star, Michael Keaton.
The film, “Birdman,” is described as “an American black comedy” co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
But make no mistake — this is a very Latin film, one that could never reach the masterful, mind-blowing and perhaps game-changing way that Mexico City-born Iñárritu has brought the story to the screen.
Without having to put “spoiler alert” in this piece, one can argue that Iñárritu’s tale of washed up actor Riggan Thomson, played by Keaton, is easily the best film of the year, if not the 2010s so far.
The plot is simple: Thomson, who rose to superstardom as the lead actor in the multi-million dollar “Birdman” film franchise, has fallen hard. He’s hedged all his bets on the staging of a Broadway play in which he stars – an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”
Sound familiar? Keaton shot to worldwide fame some 25 years ago opposite Jack Nicholson as “Batman,” following a moderately successful film career that included such forgotten 1980s faves as “Johnny Dangerously” and “Gung Ho.”
Keaton then “vanished” from the screen.
Life imitates art, and art imitates life.
Keaton is perfect for a role that many may assume is a story about him.But it’s not. It’s a tale loosely based on him that incorporates the magical realism more commonly seen in a Guillermo Del Toro film (“Pan’s Labrynth”) with the story-within-a-story familiar to Almodóvar fans (the incorporation of “A Streetcar Named Desire” into Todo sobre mi madre).
For added affect, Iñárritu allows “Birdman” to be told in slightly shifting points of view that also include Riggan Thomson’s inner voice.
By blending the complicated reality with the complex fantasy, Iñárritu has achieved nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece that, sadly, could not be realized by the Anglo establishment in Hollywood.
Thus, a new age in international cinema has arrived, and while “Birdman” may not be the box office blockbuster that the fictional early 1990s series featured in this film was, it’s a blockbuster in the sense that it has officially put a stamp on a new age for Latin filmmakers.
It should also be noted that Iñárritu’s considerable accomplishment with the film “Birdman” comes with no Hispanics cast in any of the film’s main roles. Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough are English. Edward Norton and Zach Galifinakis are as American as contemporary American cinema can get.
Yet, the lone visible Latin star carries the film; he has no dialogue but can be heard throughout. It’s Mexican jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez, who carries Iñárritu’s direction, voice and vision from start to finish.
Whether Mr. Keaton wins the Academy Award for Best Actor opposite one Bill Murray, another 1980s icon who has reinvented himself following a starring turn in Sofia Coppola’s not-so-unsimilar-to-“Birdman” 2003 classic “Lost In Translation,” is not the issue here.
What matters is what Iñárritu has put on the screen, and how the Age of the Latin Filmmaker has been cemented with a cinematic masterpiece.