January 15, 2016

Mountain of skulls

The Revenant (Alejandro G Inarritu, 2015). The trees, snow and mountains, the low angles, close-ups and wide shots: in The Revenant, Inarritu blends the spiritual cinematic visions of Malick and Tarkovsky – look out for a levitating woman as an obvious pointer – with the economic brutalism of frontier history to create a masterpiece that is both highly immersive and deeply artistic. Nature is a cathedral and the temporary works of man are a ruined church, a fort on the edge of the wilderness and, most notably, a mountain of buffalo skulls. Look beyond the western: in this intimate epic of struggle and revenge, Apocalypse Now and the Mad Max series seem like natural predecessors, and by building on and deepening the fluidity and ease of Birdman, Inarritu avoids the pretentiousness that threatened to sink the likes of Babel and 21 Grams. It is a film made of astonishing sequences – the Indian attack, the bear attack, every other attack – with nearly unidentifiable movie stars buried under frozen beards and layers of fur (not buried enough in Tom Hardy’s case, perhaps). Despite all the Oscar talk about Leonardo DiCaprio as mildly embellished historical figure Hugh Glass, actors seem almost secondary: surely the movie’s real star or hero is the gifted DOP, Cuaron and Malick collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki.