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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Multi-lingual film defies stereotypes
By Darren Waters
BBC News entertainment reporter in Cannes

A still from the film Babel
One deaf and mute girl in Babel struggles to handle a family tragedy
A film in four languages and set on different continents has become the strong favourite to win the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Babel is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and a host of unknowns.

On Tuesday it was being hailed in France as the first great film about globalisation.

After the first press showing in the world, the movie received rapturous applause.

This was despite a technical problem that forced the screening to be halted for 10 minutes.

At a press conference later, Inarritu was asked if he had written his Palme d'Or acceptance speech.

"My philosophy is low expectation and high serenity," said the Mexican director.

Early Oscar talk

With two global box office stars in the cast, the film will also find itself the subject of early Oscar talk in the coming months.

Director Alejandro Inarritu
Cate Blanchett describes Alejandro Inarritu as a "master film maker"
Half of the films in competition have now been screened, with titles such as Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth still to be shown.

Language barriers

Inarritu has fashioned a film of three broad stories, which overlap during the course of the movie.

Pitt and Blanchett play American tourists in Morocco. They are plunged into tragedy when Blanchett's character is shot while on a tour bus in the desert.

In the US the couple's Mexican nanny takes their children across the border to a family wedding when she cannot find a babysitter for the infants.

Meanwhile in Tokyo a young deaf and mute Japanese schoolgirl is struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her mother.

At all turns the barriers of language - but more importantly the barriers of stereotypes and prejudice - result in tragic outcomes.

"I wanted to make a film about prejudice without being prejudiced," said Inarritu.

"Language barriers can be very easy to surmount. The problem is one of preconceptions from one to another.

"I wrote this film to be about not what separates us but what brings us together - what makes us the same people living together in the world," he added.

"I hope the film makes that clear."

'Very personal' experience

Blanchett described Inarritu as a "master film-maker".

She said the movie appealed to her - even though her character spends most of it in pain in a small room - because it covered connections between parents and children.

Actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Cate Blanchett
The film received rapturous applause at its premiere in Cannes
"This felt very personal for me and as well as for Alejandro. Being a parent, whenever I see a child in danger... it's like pulling the roots of my system out and spraying them on the ground in front of me."

Brad Pitt was not at the conference but sent an e-mail to apologise for his absence.

"With the imminent arrival of the newest addition of our family I am unable to join Alejandro, Kate, Gael and the rest of the cast and crew.

"I am tremendously proud of Babel and want to congratulate everyone involved for this great achievement."

Blanchett said Pitt was "like chocolate - he is glorious and wonderful".

She described his work in the film as a "riveting and intensely moving performance".

Inarritu said he wanted to show how people's fear of others was damaging to society.

"This is happening not just with country against country but also father against son. We are not able to listen any more."

Freak accidents

Inarritu, 43, came to global attention with the release of Amores Perros in 2000.

The film won a Bafta for best foreign language movie and the critics' prize at Cannes.

He followed that up three years later with the critically well-received 21 Grams.

Inarritu's films often revolve around coincidences that bring the lives of different characters together and the same is true of Babel, but in a more tangential manner.

In Amores Perros and 21 Grams, freak accidents bring together two sets of three characters.


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