A Chat with Alejandro González Iñárritu, Director of

by Roger Durling

In Babel, a tragic incident involving an American
couple in Morocco sparks a chain of events for four families in
different countries throughout the world. Tied by circumstance but
separated by continent, culture, and language, each character
discovers that it is family which ultimately provides solace.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and starring Brad Pitt,
Cate Blanchett, and Gael García Bernal, Babel is a
cinematic masterpiece that opens in Santa Barbara theaters this
weekend. I had the pleasure of chatting with Iñárritu recently.

BabelAmores Perros is part of a trilogy that includes
21 Grams and . How did this third
one come about?
It was a natural kind of progression.
Amores Perros was something I did with a very local point
of view. Mexico City is my city — I was born and grew up there
until I was 38 years old. Then I went to the United States to make
my first American film, which was 21 Grams, and it was a
very foreign experience. After that, I wanted to explore that — on
a global scale — any action we do can create ripples in foreign
lands. Coming from local and foreign, global was a natural ending.
At the core of it, Babel [is] about the complex relations
between parents and children, and that’s basically what this
trilogy is about.

All three films have a very complex structure. Why do
you shuffle the chronology of events?
There are several
reasons. The first reason is I was very influenced by Latin
American writers, and Latin American writers are used to this kind
of structure. They are not afraid of language and schematic
structure, so people like Jorge Luis Borges or Juan José
Arreola — all these genius guys — are always able to play with
that, without fear. The other thing is my father, who is now 78
years old, is a great storyteller. Since I was a kid, he would
always start in the middle. And he’s jumping around in time. Then,
I have a kid who is 9 years old, and his mind is always jumping
around. And I find out that he is ADD, and then slowly I realize
that I am ADD. And then I realize that my father is ADD, too. So I
think it’s a family problem of jumping around.

In Babel, your characters desperately want to
talk to each other but they’re not listening to each other. That
conflict is heartbreaking.
Tolstoy said that families are
the same in happiness. I don’t agree with Tolstoy, with due
respect. I think what makes us similar is suffering. Every time
there is a tragedy in any part of the world, we respond, no matter
if they are Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim. We don’t care. We just
jump and share that pain with humanity. What makes happy a Japanese
girl is very different from what makes happy a Moroccan girl. But
what makes them sad is exactly the same, and what is that? It’s the
trial of human beings. It’s not being able to be loved. It’s not
being able to receive love or to communicate it, and vulnerability,
and how fragile we are to the ones we love. And my characters I
think share that same fragility or vulnerability.

How challenging was it to deal with four different casts
and crews that all spoke different languages?
It was very
close to the subject matter of the film. We had like seven
languages — French, German, Italian, Spanish, English, Berber,
Arab — and it was a mess. It was really difficult. At the beginning
you want to kill everybody. … But you know the difficult thing is
not the language, it’s about the point of view of things. We always
try to think about borders as some physical spaces — the
unfortunate fence that will be constructed between Mexico and the
United States. That’s not a problem, because we Mexicans will be
jumping anyways — we are rabbits, you know.

But the real borderlines are the ones within ourselves, in the
world of the ideas. And those ones are the most dangerous, the most
difficult to break down because you have preconceptions, you have
stereotypes, you have been filled with ideas. Ideologies really
damage the world. Religion, government, media, our parents, our
cultural traditions, whatever, they have been filling us with good
ones and bad ones. But the bad ones — all these stereotypes that we
have about the “other,” that we see them as different and because
they are different they are dangerous, that thing of “because you
are not with me you are against me” — that is when you find
yourself alienated.

In all three of your films, you’ve brought out the best
in your actors. Why are you so good with them?
You just
pay them double and then they do their job! No really, I think I
care for them. I think some actors have not been very well taken
advantage of. I always try to get people who have some kind of
interior life, some spirituality, some connection to something
bigger. You can tell in their eyes. You can tell they are complex
people who are very interesting. And I have been very lucky getting
to them — having them trust me and putting themselves in my hands.
And it’s not easy putting yourself in the hands of a Mexican

What also helps me is that I live with these characters a long
time before I start shooting — two years, three years. So I know
how they walk, I know how they eat, things you start developing in
a relationship. So I think they feel when they are just starting to
grab what these characters are, they feel comfortable that I can
help them whenever they need me and that I can talk about them as a
close friend of mine.

There are some actors, like Benicio Del Toro, who want every
single detail, like what kind of wine their character drinks, so
you have to pretend you know what kind of wine. And then there are
some people like Sean Penn who doesn’t work like that. He just
needs an image. So sometimes I say, “It’s as if this guy is doing
this.” I use a lot the term “as if.”

I try to be very sensitive with each one of them; each of them
is a different creature, they need different things. Actors are
very vulnerable, sometimes insecure. They put their face in front
of 100 people. I don’t know how they do that. It’s so difficult.
Now, today, they have to cry. It has to be the scariest job in the


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.