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Wednesday, June 2, 2004

He spins a top tale


Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu made quite a splash with his 2000 debut, "Amores Perros," which put Mexican cinema back on the map. With his followup, "21 Grams," the former radio DJ and commercial director proves that was no fluke, fashioning a film that's every bit as intense and structurally innovative as his first. While "21 Grams" may be shot in English with well-known actors, this does not mean that the director's "gone Hollywood." In an interview with The Japan Times, Inarritu -- still using the mellow baritone of a pro DJ -- discussed his approach.

News photo
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

JT: Was the film's scrambled structure there from the start in the script, or was it more linear at first?

AI: At the very beginning, it was like that. But [screenwriter] Guillermo [Arriaga] and I decided to go with the fragmentation. I'd had this idea since we finished "Amores Perros," for more than two years before we started this project. I wanted to try some kind of experimentation, a splash of emotions, kind of like a Jackson Pollock painting. You don't know exactly what's going on, but in the end you can put something together. And I thought it was the best way to tell this story. It would allow us to be fair with three points of view. And as a reconstruction of kind of a dream of Sean Penn as he's dying. That's the beautiful thing about films: Films are like dreams in the way we suddenly construct things, we get the picture of a whole life in just slices of things.

JT: But the normal thing to do in cinema these days is three acts, and spell it out quite clearly.

AI: That's because there's committees. The studio will have these five or six people who are afraid of anything that isn't clear, and underestimate the intelligence of the audience. But what I like about this construction is we tend to judge things immediately by just one look. We catch things, hear things, even judge people by how they dress, but this structure forces you to analyze, for a second time, your prejudgments.

JT: It makes you want to see it twice.

AI: I hope so. Buy two tickets. That's a good idea. [Chuckles.]

JT: When you mix things up so much, the hardest choice must be what to put first.

AI: The opening shot, we discovered later. In "Amores Perros," the first scene is the streets and the speed and it's very shaky, which sets you up for what to expect for that film. This time, that silent first shot of them just lying in bed, it's a statement itself. This film will be quiet, internal, and you'll have to reflect on it. And especially with those two pauses. Black. Then the bed. Then black.

JT: That use of black screen pauses reminds me of what you did in the "11'09"01" project. Did that idea carry over?

AI: No. I just think less is more. In "Amores Perros" I showed the [auto] accident three times, visually; this time I didn't show it. Sometimes you have to shout, sometimes you have to whisper.

JT: Actually, I kept waiting for the scene where we'd see what happened with the accident . . .

AI: You lead people along, and they'll imagine it, which is worse.

JT: Your films have a distinct look . . .

AI: Basically, it's a bleach-bypass, which is when you wash the film, you don't take out the silver. So that gives the colors richer tones, and the skin gets a little more pale, more as we are. It's more real, and it creates a world in itself. It's a texture I like to play with now.

JT: So obviously you're not an adherent of Lars von Trier. Dogma says you shouldn't indulge in technique.

AI: As a Catholic, I've got enough dogma already, I don't need any more! [Laughs.] I think Dogma is a good exercise. It's a natural reaction towards films that are overusing the tools, where everything is digital and done in post-[production], and what you don't get in drama and the script, you compensate for with stupid tricks. But I think it's good to use all the tools. The difficult thing as a director is to have all those tools and to choose which ones you'll use at which moment. It's stupid to say you should use nothing because that's "pure cinema," and just as stupid to say you should use everything. Both are radical. It's like the Taliban and the United States -- both are fundamentalist.

JT: It's like if you record acoustic music straight, it'll just sound really flat unless you tweak it with a little reverb. If you don't do that, it won't sound natural!

AI: That's true. Sometimes, to be able to make it real, you have to fake it.



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