Christine Spines
January 26, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

Alejandro González Iñárritu likes to hurt people. He brings the pain not out of malice, but a conviction that heartache is a kind of all-purpose super-glue for global disconnect. ”What unites humans is the need to be loved and the pain we go through,” says the Mexican-born director, 43, who spent a year shooting Babel‘s four story lines involving Moroccan goatherds, a Japanese deaf-mute, a Mexican nanny, and American tourists. ”Intellectually and physically, this was a very irresponsible idea. And if the film is s—, it’s always the director’s fault.” As it turns out, much of the blame and credit for Babel rests squarely on González Iñárritu, who turned that irresponsible idea into a provocative, visually inventive cross-cultural allegory. This is no minor achievement, considering the first-time Oscar nominee was often directing children and nonactors through interpreters. He even shot each section of Babel using a different camera and film stock: 16mm in Morocco, traditional 35mm in Mexico, and anamorphic 35mm in Japan.

But it was on the emotional battlefield that González Iñárritu scored his biggest victories. Try not to feel something while Cate Blanchett’s ailing American becomes gradually overwhelmed by lust for her alienated husband (Brad Pitt). ”You’re assaulted with poetic reality,” says Blanchett of watching Babel. ”That’s the domain of the auteur.” González Iñárritu’s vision is so richly textured, he expands the contours of his job description. But ”Oscar-winning director” should work quite nicely.

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