Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark, Patrick Bard, Graciela Iturbide & Miguel Rio Branco Taschen
Befitting a prestige, humanity-under-a-microscope project like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel is this weighty, meditative companion piece. It’s both factual montage of the film’s around-the-world production cycle and an impressionistic barrage of strange, unusual sights. There are also striking portraits of Inarritu and cast at work, including Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Morocco, shot by top American documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark.
Interspersed throughout are brief comments and anecdotes by the director, as weighted with profundity and compassion as Babel itself. Don’t expect to find any laughs here – apart from Inarritu’s incongruously amusing dig at a chubby Mexican boy: “The fatty in the photograph never, in the three visits I made to his house, lifted himself out of his armchair.” Indeed, as handsome as it all is, the gravity saturating every page does get a bit wearing, to the point that you might spend more time flicking through the throwaway snaps at the end, just to see cast and crew smiling.
Not so funny, either, but still frank and insightful is a Q&A with Inarritu, in which he runs through Babel’s long, winding history, from meeting Pitt for the first time on a jeans commercial in Japan to why he kept religion out of the movie despite his strong beliefs: “In Babel, it was God who created the confusion and man who has to find the solution. God is missing in this equation.” Serious man, serious movie, serious book.