LOS ANGELES - From the first scene showing actor Michael Keaton levitating in his underwear, it becomes quite clear that "Birdman" will not unfold in a conventional way.
A favourite to win the Academy Award for best picture, director Alejandro G. Inarritu's satirical jab at show business takes the audience down a cinematic rabbit hole - and not just because it takes place in the warren of a Broadway theatre.
Upon embarking on "Birdman," the Mexican filmmaker felt that cinematic storytelling was a "little bit stuck" and he wanted to do something novel because audiences deserved it.
The film industry, Inarritu says, tends to make movies that are comfortable or easy to understand for the audience, "without inviting them to explore different ways to believe cinema or stories and the infinite possibilities that cinema offers."
The exploration in "Birdman" includes the technical - filming in what appears to be one continuous shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The camera winds its way through dressing rooms and hallways, around the stage as actors rehearse, onto the building ledge and out onto the streets of Broadway.
It is also emotional. Keaton's Riggan Thomson, the washed up actor attempting a comeback with his own ponderous Broadway play, contends with the voice of his most famous film character, the super hero "Birdman," who berates him with criticism.
The director of "Amores Perros" and "Babel" doesn't tie his first comedy in a neat package, leaving Riggan's fate at the film's end open to interpretation. "It's not easy to break rules and it is not easy to be brave to finance and risk money on it," Inarritu said, speaking by telephone from wintery Calgary where he is filming frontiersman drama "The Revenant." "But I think it is worth it because that is the way we can be pushing boundaries and move ahead in the possibilities of the medium."
"Birdman" was such a ludicrous proposal that late director Mike Nichols told Inarritu he was running toward disaster and should stop the project.
Now the movie from Fox Searchlight co-leads in Oscar nominations with nine nods, including for best picture, best director, best actor for Keaton, supporting actor for Ed Norton, supporting actress for Emma Stone and cinematography for Lubezki.
In a telling show of support from Hollywood, the Producers Guild of America bestowed its top award on "Birdman," which Inarritu also co-wrote and produced. For the last seven years, the PGA winner has gone on to win the Academy Award for best picture.
If the 51-year-old wins the best director Oscar on Feb. 22, it would be the second year in a row the honour goes to a Mexican filmmaker. His friend, Alfonso Cuaron, won last year for "Gravity," and Lubezki won best cinematography for that film.
Even before the validation of awards, Inarritu believes "Birdman" gave him a new kind of confidence as a filmmaker, trusting more his work on the set and resorting less to the editing room to get the results he wants.
"You are really creating life and you are sculpting life with your hands and with your senses, instead of manipulating them technically, which is great," he said.