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

Alternately epic and intimate, political and personal, Babel bombards the senses with big ideas and bigger emotions. The four story lines — with their cacophony of cultures and languages, from Latin immigrants to Middle Eastern villagers to affluent Americans to deaf Japanese — merge seamlessly into one devastating harmony. ”The scope was insanely ambitious, verging on impossible,” says Cate Blanchett, who plays an American hit by a stray bullet while traveling through Morocco with husband Brad Pitt. ”The script was wonderful to read, but you think, ‘How will it be contained?’ There’s no teacup big enough for the storm.”

The gale force of director Alejandro González Iñáritu’s artistic temperament also made for an arduous shoot — forcing his actors to repeat their most agonizing takes up to 73 times — but also helped capture the urgency in Guillermo Arriaga’s sprawling script. ”Beyond the global scale, it’s just four stories about parents and children,” says González Iñáritu, who dedicated the film to his son and daughter. ”My big fear was that it would end up like four short stories.”

But Babel‘s most enduring impact is its thoughtful, but never preachy approach to bridging the gaps in our fractured, post-9/11 reality. ”The world we are living in now has made xenophobia and racism [acceptable],” González Iñáritu says. ”But this film is about compassion. And I realized that most people are just sharing pain, sharing love, and trying to explain the extraordinary things that happen around them.” Babel just takes that conversation several fathoms deeper.

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