With just three features to his credit, Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu already has amassed a trophy collection that would make most A-list helmers envious. His first film, “Amores perros” (2000), took home 60 international film festival prizes, including best film honors at Cannes’ Critics Week, on its way to securing an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film. His English-language follow-up, “21 Grams” (2003), scored Oscar nods for thesps Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts.
With “Babel,” the 43-year-old helmer stands the best chance thus far in his young career of adding a director nomination to his resume. Like his two previous efforts, “Babel” is a dark drama involving multiple storylines, this time centering around the shooting of an American tourist.
Taking on a cast that includes both movie stars and nonprofessionals and working in locations that range from Tokyo high-rises to the Moroccan desert and rural Mexico, Inarritu has already scooped up the Cannes Film Festival’s director prize in May and has drawn raves for his craftsmanship.
GENESIS: “Everything started when I moved to the United States in 2001. I arrived four days before 9/11. Living in exile always gives one a lot of anxiety, and that was really the basis for ‘Babel.’ I wanted to explore the themes of miscommunication, and also the idea that anything you do can create ripples all over the world.”
VISION: “I wanted each story to function as a hook, as a base from where the themes can be explored. I wanted to create a world where everything is thematically and emotionally connected.”
CHALLENGES: “The most difficult thing was directing non-actors in a language that I didn’t understand. I tried to trigger images or emotions that they had access to, and once I was able to tap into their emotional memory, I just tried to be helpful with them in a very clear way. Most of the people had never seen a camera before, and getting them to work with very experienced actors wasn’t easy. The other challenge for me was making these four stories, on three continents and in five different languages, have unity. I wanted to make a mosaic, both visually and tonally.”
MAGIC: “As a filmmaker, you have to let the film teach you and guide you. We changed things all the time based on the situation. I was always improvising. In the original script, the story about the Moroccan children ends very early, but while we were shooting one of the scenes, this intense wind appeared, and I asked the children to play with each other as the wind was whipping through the mountains. It was a completely spontaneous event, but it ended up being the only flashback in the film and also serves as the epilogue.”
NEXT: “I’m developing a project that’s kind of complicated, and I’m not ready to talk about it yet. It’s going to take a year at least, and I’m going to take my time. I’ve spent 10 years making this trilogy, and it’s time to settle down for a little while.”