Thursday, January 18, 2007

Life is fragile: Alejandro Iñárritu makes movies that are seemingly about how miserable and dark life is. But, he says, they’re all about hope. Alice O’Keefe, in The New Statesman, asks what exactly he means by that:

The new film returns to a question raised in 21 Grams: how do you measure the value of a human life? “The New York Times says that 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and 600,000 Iraqis. Imagine if that number of Americans had died. It is inconceivable. The value of American lives is [high], but in Africa, a million people can die and there’s no reaction.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this message has had a mixed reception in the States, where the film premièred in October. One critic objected to “Iñárritu and [his screenwriter Guillermo] Arriaga’s aggressive suggestion that we Americans and white Europeans are something less than exemplary citizens of the world, particularly in times of crisis”. It was a response that came as little surprise to the director. “Unfortunately, there is a certain type of American who thinks that this film is a criticism, when it’s not. It is simply a commentary on the reality,” he says. “It is a very American sentiment, which interprets any kind of criticism as an attack. It’s like the position of Bush: you’re either with me or against me; there’s no dialogue. Many people have felt attacked — sadly, because it was never intended to be an attack.”

As the title suggests, one of Babel’s central conceits is the difficulty of cross-cultural communication. But although the encounters between cultures in it are characterised by fear and mistrust, all the characters have the same fundamental priorities: family and the search for love. Like Iñárritu’s previous two films, it is fundamentally about “parents and children, that is the nucleus. And through this microcosm you can observe the macrocosm; you do a biopsy on the cell to see how the body is working.”

It is, perhaps, a simplistic vision that steers well clear of areas of deep inter-cultural conflict such as religion. But it is one that Iñárritu insists cinema can and should articulate. “The beauty of cinema is that it is the universal language,” he says. “I decided to make this film using very few words, as I was striving for a very pure kind of film. The visual language takes audiences, without words or translations, into places they could never reach in reality.”


No comments: