On Oscar night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed Alejandro González Iñárritu the Best Director award for his unlikely hit Birdman. The film also won Best Picture. Birdman‘s film industry triumph capped a fifteen-year rise that began when Iñárritu hit the zeitgeist with his 2000 feature film Amores Perros and continued with 21 Grams, Babel, and Biutiful.
In a rare English-language consideration of the Mexican auteur, Celestino Deleyto and Maria del Mar Azcona delve into Iñárritu’s celebrated oeuvre. The book includes a revealing interview that allows the director to discuss theme, technique, and approach to story at length, as with Iñárritu’s oft-mentioned and distinctive use of the handheld camera:
Deleyto and Azcona: Why does handheld camera predominate in your films?
Iñárritu: Handheld camera is very often accused of being an artificial element, but I always defend its potential when used in the right way. I think that the handheld camera is the closest you can get to the way the human being experiences the world. We see through a handheld camera. When I move around, I don’t dolly or crane. Like the tripod, those are antinatural ways of experiencing the world.
The handheld camera is the way to see the world as the character is experiencing it. I’m not against those other techniques, but the handheld camera seems more natural to me. When I design a scene with Rodrigo Prieto, with whom I’ve been working for more than eighteen years, I tell him what part of each shot I’m interested in. We talk about the scene, we place the actors in the scene, and then we subordinate the camera to all those elements. The camera is there to enhance what I want to show at that specific moment. From the angle to the type of lens, everything is subordinated to the content of the scene and the feeling I want to convey. We talk about that until the camera becomes a narrative tool capable of creating different feelings, like uncertainty or peace. It points at what I, as a spectator, should half see—it suggests, it narrates.
We’ve also used it in Biutiful. In this film, it’s a special handheld camera because we use it according to the needs of the character. It creates different sensations depending on the moment. This is something that I couldn’t have done in any of my other films. It becomes organic. Some people accuse the handheld camera of being manipulative. They say, leave the frame and allow the spectators to see what they want to see. This is what Jim Jarmusch does. I like the way he uses the camera, but not for my films. There’s no free will in my case. I want to tell the story the way I want to tell it.