Hollywood Flashback: Cannes Jury President Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s 'Babel' Dazzled in 2006

STEPHANE CARDINALE/CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES
Alejandro G. Iñárritu (center) flanked by (from left): Boubker Ait El Caid, Rinko Kikuchi, Gael García Bernal, Cate Blanchett and Kôji Yakusho on the Cannes red carpet at the 'Babel' premiere

Though the $25 million drama from the then-42-year-old filmmaker didn't win the Palme d'Or, Iñárritu did win the best director award: "It put Alejandro in a position where he was seen as an international filmmaker working at the highest levels."

As the 59th Cannes Festival was winding down in 2006, The Hollywood Reporter had clearly begun to enjoy itself. "This year’s Festival de Cannes was the Zen festival," wrote THR. "Blazing sunshine and a less than jampacked Croisette, plus a lineup with many competent but few red-hot titles made for a mellow mix of business and buzz."

The fest had begun under the threat of a police strike by Cannes' 150 municipal officers, who primarily handle traffic and street theft; opened with Warner Bros.' The Da Vinci Code, drawing a lackluster response plus some boos; and had former Vice President Al Gore on hand to promote An Inconvenient Truth. (Gore, one of the few American politicians who speaks at least some French, did 46 interviews to boost the film.) It was also the first time 2019’s Cannes jury president, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, had a film in competition. The then-42-year old director was there with Babel. The $25 million drama, which weaves together stories of three families in Mexico, Morocco and Japan, would be the first release of Paramount Vantage.

THR was blown away. "Tense, relentless and difficult to watch, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s Babel is an emotionally shattering drama," said the review, which predicted the film was "headed for major prizes and large, appreciative audiences." The Palme d’Or, however, would not be one of those awards. The jury, led by Wong Kar Wai, gave the top honor to Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley, but Iñárritu did win the best director prize.

"Winning that at Cannes really set us up nicely for our awards campaign," says then-Paramount Vantage president John Lesher. "It put Alejandro in a position where he was seen as an international filmmaker working at the highest levels." Babel went on to win the Golden Globe for best drama and received seven Oscar nominations.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 18 daily issue at the Cannes Film Festival.