In a break from its normal business model, U.S. streaming giant Netflix (NFLX.O) has agreed to show the latest film of Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu in U.S. and Mexican cinemas before moving it online.
"Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths", which received its world premiere on Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, is a three-hour epic following the memories and fears of a Mexican journalist reflecting on his journey through life.
Funny, surreal and visually stunning, it is Iñárritu's first movie since his 2015 drama "The Revenant", which won him an Oscar for best director. It is also his first feature for Netflix.
"I am so grateful to Netflix, because they didn't just give me complete support and freedom, but they also they allowed me to release this film for seven weeks in Mexico in many cinemas and in the United States," Iñárritu told reporters.
"This is something unprecedented which I really appreciated," he added, saying he felt his Spanish-language film would benefit from being seen on a big screen.
Netflix said "Bardo" will play in cinemas in Mexico starting from Oct. 27, as well as in select U.S. theatres from Nov. 4, before launching on the streaming site on Dec. 16.
However, Iñárritu said he had no intention of going "against the prevailing tide" of online film launches, saying that as a film student he had seen many movie masterpieces on video.
"A movie is a movie. It is just a means," he said, adding that modern streaming was an "incredible technology" that gave people access to great works of art at any time.
Highlighting its enormous investment in cinema, Netflix is premiering three other movies at Venice - "Blonde", "Athena" and "White Noise", which opened the festival on Wednesday.
"Bardo" follows a documentary maker, played by Daniel Giménez, as he briefly returns to Mexico before heading back to his adopted home in the United States, where he is due to receive a prestigious award.
Like the protagonist, Iñárritu now lives in the United States, but he said the picture was not autobiographical.
"It's an emotional biography that isn't trying to be true," said the director, who besides "The Revenant" also won three Oscars for directing, co-writing, and co-producing "Birdman", which also got the nod for best picture.
"Bardo" regularly blurs dreams with reality, as it confronts themes like identity, history, migration, family, love, and loss.
"Alejandro said to me 'don't think of this as a rational thing with developed characters, dramatic arcs... don't study it, don't read it'," Giménez said, recalling the unorthodox preparation for the picture.