- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s latest film, “Babel,” consists of four interconnected, intercontinental stories about miscommunication. The theme seems perfectly suited to a director born in Mexico City, who studied under Polish director Ludwik Margules, and whose films have earned Oscar consideration in the U.S.

The 43-year-old director, speaking in the District last month, agreed that he’s had his own communication problems in Hollywood. But they don’t seem too severe. For “Babel,” he attracted top-rank talent — Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett — whose roles were barely bigger than those of the locals he recruited in Morocco.

With those “actors,” who had never been in a motion picture before, he did have to use translators to be understood. “Babel” features six spoken dialects, as well as sign language. Perhaps Mr. Inarritu is an exceptional communicator. Without even speaking their language, he coaxed compelling performances out of the two teenage boys whose sibling rivalry results in an international incident.

The Moroccan extras were a bit harder to work with, he admits. The director laughs, recalling: “It was difficult to get them to quit smiling at the camera.”

“Babel’s” four stories are tied together by a rifle that changes hands. Although it’s used to tragic effect and Mr. Inarritu counts himself a supporter of greater gun control, the director insists, “I wasn’t trying to make a political statement.” The “story” is key, he says.

Story also explains why his films — “Babel,” 2000’s “Amores Perros” and 2003’s “21 Grams” form a loose trilogy on death — have gotten bigger. The events of his debut took place in Mexico City, while “Babel” spans the globe.

Mr. Inarritu says it’s not because his budgets have gotten larger. His ideas dictated the move toward the epic; the message dictated the medium, he explains.

Gesturing with his hands, he comes up with a fitting analogy for what he’s trying to say: “You serve champagne in long flutes and tequila in small shot glasses.”

Old Europe’s new films

European directors are doing plenty of interesting work, but you’d hardly know it from a look at your local multiplex. So the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, run by the American Film Institute, is doing a public service by hosting the 2006 European Union Film Showcase.

From now through Nov. 19, film fans visiting the Silver Spring theater can choose from 27 films from 21 countries. This year’s festival, co-sponsored by the Cultural Counselors of European Union Member States, is the largest in its 19-year history.

Five countries’ official Oscar selections for 2006 will be shown: Germany’s “The Lives of Others,” Denmark’s “After the Wedding,” the Czech Republic’s “Lunacy,” Austria’s “You Bet Your Life” and Sweden’s “Falkenberg Farewell.”

If any pattern emerges from the selections, it’s that a number of entries have a literary pedigree: “Lunacy” is based on stories by the Marquis de Sade and Edgar Allan Poe, France’s “The Bridesmaid” is based on a book by British crime novelist Ruth Rendell, and Austria’s “Silentium” is based on one of Wolf Haas’ comic crime novels.

A highlight of the English entries is “Starter for Ten.” This college comedy set in the 1980s stars James McAvoy, fresh off his performance opposite Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland,” as a working-class freshman aiming to get on a quiz show. Audiences — including this critic — enjoyed it at the Toronto film festival in September.

Film fans can find the full schedule online at www.afi.com/silver. Tickets are $9.25 for general admission, $7.50 for seniors, students and AFI members. Weekday screenings before 6 p.m. are $6.75. Buy tickets online or at the theater in downtown Silver Spring at 8633 Colesville Road.

The reel D.C.

Everyone knows “Independence Day,” in which aliens invade Washington, was filmed partly in the District. But did you know a scene in “The Goldfather II” was? And part of “The Wedding Crashers”?

Tourist-friendly Washington now offers visitors a different perspective on the capital — that of entertainment, not politics (although the two aren’t always different). On Location Tours, which runs four tours in New York, has expanded to the District.

Starting today, you can take a three-hour bus tour through the city and see where various television shows and movies were filmed.

A recent tour conducted for the press was led by local actress Karen Novack, currently onstage in Scena Theatre’s “The Insect Play.”

The tour starts at Union Station, a surprisingly popular film locale, with “Hannibal” and “The Sentinel” shot there. Later, it winds through Georgetown for a look at the famous stairs featured in the horror movie “The Exorcist.”

The Capitol is the most filmed District location, with 120 movies featuring the building. “It’s often seen being destroyed by supernatural or extraterrestrial events,” Miss Novack notes.

That’s one important thing to note about the tour — most of the movies filmed in the District seem to be either disaster flicks or thrillers. Pull-down screens on the bus show clips of movies mentioned for those who have forgotten, for example, the image of the Georgetown Gap store in “Minority Report.”

On Location Tours leaves Union Station at 2 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. You can buy tickets, which must be purchased in advance, at www.screentours.com.

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