Mexican cinematographer Lubezki makes Oscar history with hat-trick

Emmanuel Lubezki celebrates with his Oscar for Best Cinematography for the movie ‘The Revanant’ at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. — Reuters pic
Emmanuel Lubezki celebrates with his Oscar for Best Cinematography for the movie ‘The Revanant’ at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. — Reuters pic

LOS ANGELES, Feb 29 — Mexico’s Emmanuel Lubezki yesterday made history with his third consecutive Oscar for cinematography, for his dramatic work in tough conditions on survival epic The Revenant.

Without his keen eye, his mastery of natural light and his ability to produce gorgeous long takes, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may not have been able to realise his vision for the film, a tale of revenge shot mainly in Canada’s wilderness.

“To my parents, my friends and to all the cinematographers that were nominated with me — I admire you so much, I love your work. Alejandro, thank you so much,” said Lubezki, the first cinematographer to win three Academy Awards in a row.

Last year, he received a golden statuette for another collaboration with Inarritu, Birdman.

The year before, he was behind the camera for Alfonso Cuaron, another award-winning Mexican director, and took home the Oscar for space epic Gravity.

Lubezki bested fellow nominees Ed Lachman (Carol), Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight), John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Roger Deakins (Sicario).

The 50-something cinematographer has said that one of the keys to success in his business is to guess what is going on in a director’s head, anticipate his choices and make his job easier.

His close partnership with Inarritu — his friend, colleague and compatriot — already struck gold with Birdman, which went on to win four Oscars last year including best picture.

But with The Revenant, the pair took their work to another level.

They spent months studying the landscapes of Canada and the southern tip of Patagonia in Argentina, to be sure that the backdrops highlighted the raw humanity of the story.

The film tells the tale of 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass, who is mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his travel companions. He somehow survives the attack and sets out in harsh wintry conditions to seek revenge.

The attack scene, the most talked-about of the film, is all Lubezki’s work — one long take that conveys the horror and panic of Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio).

In the few interviews Lubezki has given during awards season, he has not revealed how the scene was filmed.

“It’s like a magician revealing his tricks just before the movie comes out. It’ll remain a secret,” Lubezki told the Awards Daily website.

“When you see that without cuts, it has an energy and a strength and a randomness — an energy that otherwise it wouldn’t have.”

Lubezki launched his career in the late 1980s, on Mexican television and film productions.

For Gravity, he created the space station, the stars, and even the astronauts’ suits by computer. He also managed to convey a sense of zero gravity that was hailed as pioneering.

He worked with Cuaron on A Little Princess (1995) and Children of Men — which earned him two of his eight total Oscar nominations.

Lubezki has worked twice with enigmatic director Terrence Malick — on The New World and The Tree of Life.

He collaborated with the quirky Tim Burton on Sleepy Hollow, and with the Coen brothers on Burn After Reading. — AFP