With 21 Grams, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who likes to explore the darkest recesses of human experience, braided three stories of loss and anguish into one fractured narrative. This time he toggles between four harrowing plotlines, loosely connecting a tragedy-stricken American couple (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) vacationing in Morocco; a family of Berber goatherds testing out a new gun; a raucous Mexican wedding; and a boy-crazed deaf-mute Tokyo teen.
”Pain, what makes us miserable, is exactly the same for everybody in the world,” says Iñárritu. ”[But] what makes you happy is very different from a Japanese boy and a Moroccan. So I end up making films about what really unites us.”
Though this is undeniably tough emotional sledding, Babel was the first script fast-tracked for production by Paramount’s then-new head honcho Brad Grey, and the gamble was offset by Pitt and his passion for the project. ”Once we heard Brad was interested we very quickly tried to make it work for his schedule,” says producer Jon Kilik of Pitt’s three-week portion of the shoot, which took place in a remote, primitive Moroccan village beyond the reach of the global media juggernaut. ”We were shooting with 99 percent nonactors, people that have never seen a camera,” recalls Iñárritu. ”Brad could walk into town and nobody knew who he was.”
While Iñárritu put his actors through an emotional meat grinder on camera, he never let himself or his crew off the hook during the yearlong shoot in four countries and five languages (including signing). ”It’s an intense experience to take a journey with Iñárritu,” says Kilik. ”You feel like you’ve lived it, and when you watch the movie, what you’re seeing is exactly what we all went through.”