4 interlocking stories connected by a single gun converge at the end to reveal a complex and tragic story of the lives of humanity around the world and how we truly aren't all that different. In Morocco, a troubled married couple are on vacation trying to work out their differences. Meanwhile, a Moroccan herder buys a rifle for his sons so they can keep the jackals away from his herd. A girl in Japan dealing with rejection, the death of her mother, the emotional distance of her father, her own self-consciousness, and a disability among many other issues, deals with modern life in the enormous metropolis of Tokyo, Japan. Then, on the opposite side of the world the married couple's Mexican nanny takes the couple's 2 children with her to her son's wedding in Mexico, only to come into trouble on the return trip. Combined, it provides a powerful story and an equally powerful looking glass into the lives of seemingly random people around the world and it shows just how connected we really ... Written by
If you like me, and so many others found 'Crash' (2005) offensively finger-wagging and dumb (its inherent message was: "Racism is bad."), Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel will make it up to you with refreshing intelligence, respect for cultures and crisp acting. The plot outline is difficult to do justice in one sentence but much like Crash it explores culture clashes in life by navigating multiple interweaving story lines.
One of these is the story of the married couple Richard and Susan Jones, played by Pitt and Blanchett, who travel to Morocco 'to get away'. Theirs is a remarkably complex and bruised marriage at first but once the plot gradually unfolds the root of their problems becomes apparent. What is most remarkable about their storyline is that Brad Pitt actually emotes as an actor (although is he is grossly facilitated by heartfelt circumstances) and that Cate Blanchett regrettably never gets the chance to shine in her performance.
Cut to two young Arabic boys in the barren craggy hills of the outback of Morocco. They are brothers whom have just been given a rifle by their father to protect their goats and now they are having fun in learning how to fire the weapon. There is refreshing gritty honesty in the portrayal of this storyline from the dirt and heat on their clothes to the realistic dialogue and many heartrending moments due to the aforementioned. But be warned, this is no glossy or romantic depiction of North Africa...
Another storyline takes place in colourful Tokyo in Japan, detailing the teenage life of a deaf girl called Chieko. Hers is arguably the most compelling story especially in terms of sheer fun to be had. Being a teenage girl is hard enough and Chieko finds that her disability distances her from other people the boys she is interested in looks at her like she is a monster and frustrated and desperate to be loved, she indulges in teenage clichés like partying and drinking in the modern mess that is Tokyo. Here I found the single most vivid disco sequence completely sucking me in and not letting go until the fast-paced euphoria of Chieko finally subsided. There is absolute gold to be found in this Tokyo story.
Finally, the last storyline takes place in Mexico and the main character is a woman called Amelia (Adriana Barraza), who also happens to be Richard and Susan's nanny. When her son is getting married in Mexico and she cannot get a day off, she takes the kids with her across the border. Big mistake. I'm sure many will be able to identify with the sprawling surge of Mexican culture at the wedding and indeed the music and pace made this storyline both beautiful and enjoyable to follow. It is evident that director Alejandro González Iñárritu feels most at home in this setting and as a result, the story shines and its characters emote.
Although there is a lot to keep track of in 'Babel' owing to its many story lines, there is such a fluent and seamless intercutting of these segments that it is impossible not to be entranced in the entirety of the film. There is a wealth of juxtapositions of culture to be found and much fun and visual stimulation to be had because of it. From the dramatic barren landscapes of Morocco to the fast-paced teen world of Tokyo, Babel treats contrast with remarkable sensitivity and skill of the subject matter. In other words, it gives a nonsentimental yet compassionate insight into the lives of different people whose stories orbit around the kaleidoscope that is 'Babel', sewn together by unsparing and uninhibited performances.
Better yet, you get so caught up in each story that when it cuts to make room for the next you feel almost a little offended and that is good film-making. Babel, given its content, is everything Crash was not. Finally, it offers a satisfying and humble conclusion to an otherwise epic film. Although I cannot help but remark, Iñárritu, come on you could have made a good movie in less than 2½ hours... *hmph*
8 out of 10
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