Director ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU (21 Grams) goes deep with the richly layered, highly topical BABEL....
Director ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU (21 Grams) goes deep with the richly layered, highly topical BABEL. BY GAYNOR FLYNN
When 43-year-old Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu arrives for our interview at The Toronto International Film Festival, he flops into the oversized armchair, runs his hands through his unruly shoulder length hair and declares, "I want time to do nothing". Who can blame him? Ever since he burst onto the film scene six years ago with the explosive Amores Perros, his life "has changed completely". The unrelenting 21 Grams, which earned its stars Oscar nominations, only catapulted him further into the limelight. Babel is everything you've come to expect from the LA-based director: it's a gritty, visceral tale with multiple narratives structured around a cause-consequence scenario that leaves you reeling, and stars Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt as well as numerous "non actors".
What made you want to tell this story?
"I had the idea before I started shooting 21 Grams and what I understand now is that this film couldn't have happened without me being in self exile. I left my country in 2001 and it's a very complicated thing when you're a third world citizen living in a first world country. It's difficult to communicate and you confront prejudices every day. I've been travelling a lot over the last six years and that triggered in me a lot of things that I needed to question. I wanted to somehow film that whole moral imposition that I feel in everyday life."
Why did you choose this title?
"It's from the bible and the idea is that many people are speaking but nobody is communicating. But language is not what's keeping us apart it's ideas, and preconceptions that lead to fear. That's what the film's trying to talk about."
Was it difficult to convince Cate Blanchett to come on board?
"I've always wanted to work with Cate. She didn't want to work with me because I'm a poor Mexican guy who couldn't pay her but I begged her. [Laughs] No, she said that she wanted to make a film with me, but she didn't want a small role. She said the role in the film was basically a woman who is lying bleeding on the floor all the film, and it's true. I thought it was a great role and a challenge for her. I needed the audience to empathise with the character, and I needed an actor that could say everything with their eyes without moving. That requires huge skill and huge presence, so I convinced her."
Why use non-actors?
The risk was that non-actors popping up during the film would be distracting. But that really excites me: the possibility of completely failing. I'm like a masochist! I create situations that are run on adrenalin. I thought that if they were able to blend themselves into the canvas without getting attention that they would just be one more human being in the film. That would not only mean that it had succeeded, but the film is actually about that. It's about everyone being the same. There are no heroes."
Was Brad Pitt your first choice?
No. It's not a Brad Pitt role, but I go against the usual choice because film is about transformation. It was hard for him to leave his movie star persona behind and become a fragile human being. But this is also an interesting choice because Brad is an icon, and he can represent a range of American people. That was interesting for me to play with."
Has making this film impacted on you personally?
"I really travelled a lot for one year and this movie helped me to be more positive. I was more cynical and more pessimistic. The TV news and the governments just send us this message about the threat of others and our teachers and our fathers tell us that the white race or the black race or Catholics or whatever are not as good as us. We have been fucked by what we are told because when you go out there and live with people and work with them and have a relationship with them, you realise that everything is wrong. We are all exactly the same."
Babel is screening now.