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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Alas, it appears that, based on other user comments here at IMDb, I am
in the minority on this film. I found it to be tedious and exhausting,
and the effort I put into sticking with it far outweighed any sense of
closure I received from it.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu appeared at the screening I saw and introduced his film as the final entry in a trilogy that includes "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams." Inarritu, in a comment that surprised me, said that his intent with this trilogy was not to focus on politics or social commentary, but rather to look at the modern family and what it means to be a father, son, mother, daughter, etc. This may have been his intention, but I don't feel that over the course of three entire films Inarritu did say much about these issues. Instead, he has painted a portrait of the world as he apparently sees it as a pretty bleak, uncaring and unforgiving place to live. I thought "Amore Perros" was so pessimistic as to border on nihilism; "21 Grams" came closer to finding a sense of peace and redemption among the general human crappiness. "Babel" sticks closer to the sentiments of the first film than the latter.
"Babel" is of course about communication, or more exactly miscommunication, in the modern world. It's a theme that has engaged the interest of many a filmmaker lately -- the idea that technology has made instant communication so much easier, yet people seem to be more than ever incapable of understanding one another. It's a conceit that greatly interests me, but Inarritu doesn't exploit its potential here. "Babel" consists of a monotonous series of scenes in which people shout, storm, fight and talk over one another, always in a hurry to be understood without taking the time to understand. Very well, point taken. But Inarritu makes this point within the film's first half hour -- you only need see one or two scenes of this kind of frustrating verbal gridlock to understand what he's trying to say; after that, the frustration just mounts without any kind of pay off. People are mean to one another, some are unbelievably callous (I didn't buy for a second that the group of tourists who accompany Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's characters to a remote Moroccan village after Blanchett is accidentally shot would be so uncaring as Inarritu depicts them). In Inarritu's world, all authority figures are to be justifiably feared, as they go around beating everybody up and pulling guns on innocent people. There's no nuance here; Inarritu pounds his message into you. For example, he obviously feels strongly about the mistreatment of illegal immigrants, especially those from Mexico, but instead of engaging in an intelligent debate about the topic, he sets up such an implausible, not to mention one-sided, scenario in this film that you can't help but agree with him.
The biggest disappointment in "Babel" is his failure to fully utilize a couple of wonderful actors he has assembled. Cate Blanchett is utterly wasted as the caustic American wife whose shooting sets off the chain of events. And Gael Garcia Bernal likewise gets nothing to do as a hot-headed Mexican whose attempts to run from border patrol creates a sad ending for one of the major characters. Brad Pitt does better than expected with the frenzied, frustrated husband of Blanchett. But these people have no history. We know virtually nothing about anybody in the film, yet are expected to care deeply about what happens to them. Maybe that's part of Inarritu's point -- that we're all connected to one another even if we don't know it, and that the world has become so small that there are no longer such things as strangers in it. But this is a film narrative, not real life, and you can't build a compelling one out of anonymous characters.
After "21 Grams" I thought I was warming up to Inarritu, but this film has sent me back to the detractors' camp. He certainly knows how to put a movie together, and he finds engaging ways to tell his stories. But his attitudes and approach to the modern world are so depressing and fatalistic that his films push me away rather than draw me in.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Babel is one of the most intelligent and artfully made films of 2006.
The film has two central themes - culture and communication. It also
exposes the connections between these themes in the arenas of politics,
religion and geography sensitively and intelligently. The tag-line,
though intentionally obtuse, sums the film up well - "If you want to be
understood... Listen" - The parable is designed to speak to people all
over the world who seem to believe that the meaning and importance of
political boundaries somehow supersedes the value of humanity. It has
especially important messages for Americans, however. And its release
was well-timed to coincide with an election (2006) which may, in the
long term, provide some hope for American foreign policy.
The film brilliantly weaves four deeply interconnected stories engaging five cultures on three continents. The cultures are North American, Mexican, Moroccan, Japanese and Japanese/deaf. At the heart of each tragedy is an inability to communicate. The tragedies begin with bad decisions that spin each plot somewhat out of control once cultural interference and miscommunication kick in.
Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett play a troubled American couple having very little fun on a vacation in the Middle East. Susan (Blanchett) is shot by a young boy practicing with a gun (The two Middle Eastern boys who play the brothers in this film give Oscar-worthy performances, unfortunately I can't get their names out of IMDb easily). Three crises are simultaneously set off, as the Americans' nanny must find a way to attend her son's wedding in Mexico while Susan's medical crisis unfolds, and the poor Islamic family responsible for the gun begin to undergo a devastating crisis of their own. Of course the United States executive branch (not the government - sorry, we are still a democratically organized republic regardless of who sits in the oval office) interprets the crisis as an act of terrorism and a political crisis threatens to doom Susan to bleeding to death in a small remote town in the desert. Finally, in a seemingly disconnected story, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a young, deaf, Japanese volleyball player is coming of age. Her mother has committed suicide and she seems bound to work out her problems with her father by devoting herself to a lascivious lifestyle.
The performances are, all around, excellent. The directing is exquisite - perfectly paced and visualized. This is a great film which, despite its commercial pedigree and big budget, achieves a rare level of artistry - proving that blockbusters do not have to be sold short. Babel will make you think, and think well. Make sure you bring your attention span and brain, however.
Very highly recommended.
Alejandro González Iñárritu's direction is brilliantly layered and
intricately woven. He deftly uses different film stock, imagery, sound,
and stories to weave a single tale out of four disparate ones, a talent
he's shown in other films.
The story by screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and Iñárritu has one incident ricochet around the globe, and peeling back the layers of culture to show the frustrating inability to communicate, and the poignancy and universality of familial love.
Each story is complete, but a series of snapshots that leave as many questions as answers. As the stories unfold, the backstories and the futures of the characters are chock full of possibility and pain. As one commenter during the Q&A said, it was frustratingly beautiful. Each storyline deals with family and conflict from the inability to communicate or to understand.
All the performances are incredible, and very touching. Brad Pitt did an excellent job, and the always outstanding Cate Blanchett, a powerhouse actor if there ever was one, has the least screen time of any of the leads. Few can do so much with so little. But the really outstanding performance is Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf-mute Tokyo teen.
To say any more would possibly lesson the experience, so let me just say this: it may seem confusing at times, but by the end, it will seem like poetry.
Babel is my film of the year, and probably the best film I've seen in quite a few years. The film looks at relationships, from husband/wife, parent/children, brother/sister and plays around the themes of love in adversity. The characters are all interlinked in a very random way, it's a little like 10 degrees of separation. The film is set in Morocco, Mexico, Japan and the US, and the director makes full use of the different backdrops to bring the picture alive. The characters are deep and insightful, each has a problem to face up to and the subtle, naturalistic way their issues play out make for truly emotional cinema. This is not a film about heroes, it's a film about trying to make the right choices when your back is to the wall, and the doubts that go with this. Great movie, especially if you're a parent as your protective instincts will kick in at least once during this movie!
"Babel" represents director Alejanrdo Gonzalez Iñárritu's conclusion to
a trilogy that begins with "Amores Perros" and continues with "21
Grams". That being said, if you have seen either of those films and did
not like them, it is probably fair to assume that you will not like
"Babel" either. Thematically and stylistically, this film continues in
the same direction, but increases in scope, illustrating that one
incident can trigger a devastating series of events all around the
Like "21 Grams", "Babel" is constructed as a puzzle, with different pieces transpiring during different times and in different places. Many viewers will no doubt see similarities to Paul Haggis' "Crash" which explores similar issues; however Iñárritu's piece places more emphasis on human emotion and requires the viewer to be much more participative in the interpretation of themes and ideas.
The film is set into motion when the young sons of a Moroccan goat herder get careless with a new rifle and accidentally shoot an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) traveling with her husband (Brad Pitt). This one act sets off a series of tragedies with global implications. American officials interpret this as an act of terrorism and of course the media reflects this accordingly. There is a story of the couple's undocumented nanny who juggles taking care of their kids while attending her own son's wedding in Mexico. In my favorite story, a deaf Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) struggles with her mother's recent suicide and a father who is emotionally distant. This story doesn't reveal its connection to the others until late in the film, but it is undoubtedly the most poignant.
At its core, "Babel" is about the difficulty of human communication and even though stories unfold in four different countries and in five languages (English, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, and Sign); language is far from the principal obstacle. This film is more concerned with cultural assumptions and biases that tend to obscure reality and how our perceived differences keep us from connecting to each other. There are many reasons to recommend "Babel", but most of all because of its astounding ability to cope with issues of global importance while also presenting characters whose individual struggles are no less compelling.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BABEL is better than I'd expected it could be. I've heard the
beginnings of the backlash ("it's another CRASH") coming on the heels
of the Cannes Film Festival triumph... and I kind of bought it. I
respected AMORES PERROS and 21 GRAMS but neither really connected with
me... So I was totally unprepared to be as impressed by this film as I
I wasn't a fan of CRASH -- I thought it was an overly-simplified take on a complex issue and that the characters were drawn in cartoony, larger-than-life strokes. BABEL, for me, is the complete opposite: as dense and complicated as the current state of world relations (between countries, between strangers, between family members and friends), filled with complex characters who are never reduced to stereotype. The performances are uniformly excellent, from the non-actors to the unknowns (here in America, anyway) to Brad Pitt, Gael Garcia Bernal and Cate Blanchett (all of whom give completely unflashy, ensemble performances). And the technical film-making is astounding -- not just the direction, but on every front (the editing and the amazing score deserve particular attention).
The most remarkable thing for me is the way director Inarritu and screenwriter Arriaga capture the different rhythms of life in Morocco, America, Tokyo and Mexico. Rather than using some kind of clear-cut stylistic device (like the color-coding in TRAFFIC), they establish the distinct flow and feel of each country early on and maintain it throughout the film. It's that kind of depth that makes BABEL such a unique mainstream film.
My best advice is to go into this film with as few preconceptions as possible and enjoy an experience that's become increasingly rare since the heyday of the 1970s: an intelligent Hollywood film with something important on its mind.
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
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel weaves four disparate and seemingly
unrelated tales into a distinct, gritty narrative about the importance
of communication - and what can happen when it goes awry. The movie is
oftentimes difficult to watch, with ultrarealistic cinematography and
gutsy, honest performances from its entire cast, particularly
Oscar-nominated actresses Adriana Barraza (Amelia) and Rinko Kikuchi
Told nonlinearly, the movie describes the travails of a troubled married couple with a tour group in Morocco, played by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Something in their past has driven them apart, and to help deal with the problem they have taken a trip together. Meanwhile, the sons of a shepherd fight over who's the better shot with their new rifle and fire a blast at the couple's tour bus, critically wounding Susan (Blanchett).
Richard (Pitt) calls home in San Diego to notify the nanny of their children, Amelia; Amelia is in a bit of a bind, because she expected the parents home so she could attend the wedding of her son in Mexico. With Richard and Susan not returning soon, and with no one else available to watch the children, she takes them with her to the wedding.
In Japan, a deaf-mute Japanese girl acts out in reaction to her mother's suicide, which she discovered; the virginal Chieko becomes a huge sexual flirt, even removing her panties in a crowded restaurant to flash older boys. Chieko craves human contact but feels that the world's even more shut off to her now than ever before, and she sullenly shuns even her father's attentions.
It should go without saying that this film really isn't for everyone. It's gut-wrenchingly tough to watch at times, especially when Susan's wound is being treated. You can readily imagine how it'd be if you, an unworldly American, were suddenly in dire need of expert medical attention in a part of the world that wasn't really famed for it. That's enough to strike terror in me already, and I haven't even mentioned how Richard and Susan are awaiting help to arrive in a small, impoverished village with no running water or electricity - and only one person who can speak English to them.
How exactly these stories are commingled becomes evident as the movie progresses, but it's not all elegantly laid out for the viewer to immediately grasp; this is accomplished in part by the nonlinear storytelling. We see a scene near the end of the movie that is a mirror image of one from the beginning, except told from a different character's perspective. That's a tribute to the wonderful camera-work and editing by, respectively, Rodrigo Prieto and the team of Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrone.
Barraza turns in a powerful, heart-breaking performance; at one point, she's stranded in the middle of the Sonoran desert with her two young charges clad in her dress from the wedding. Dazed by the blistering heat, Amelia cannot gain her bearings in the blazing heat, and she despairs. Then she makes a critical decision with devastating consequences.
Kikuchi is absolutely mesmerizing as the silent Chieko. Without uttering one word, she's able to convey a vast array of emotions, from loneliness to hostility to love to lust to affection. She's alternately serene and violent, in charge of and captured by her impediment. Chieko resents her father, her volleyball teammates, and most of all every so-called normal person who looks at deaf-mutes as monsters, creatures to be scorned and taken advantage of. Like Barraza, Kikuchi's role called for a difficult sacrifice: plenty of nudity.
Babel is a spellbinding, multifaceted story with towering, passionate performances by all of the leads. It's full of moxie and stark realism, and despite some minor plot implausibilities, it's a true feather in the cap for Inarritu.
I loved "Amores Perros" It was revolutionary in so many ways and smelled like the real thing even if I couldn't quite put my finger as to what the real thing really was. "21 Grams" had gigantic intentions and superb performances but didn't feel quite revolutionary because we had kind of seen it before - and better - in "Amores Perros". Now "Babel" and, my goodness, the first thing that comes to mind is, what an extraordinary filmmaker Inarritu really is. I suspect that his universe, even if it feels infinite, it is framed - beautifully so - between the walls of biblical references. His methods may be way ahead of the times but the roots are as ancestral as fire itself. I'm not sure where I want to go with all this but the question is, Inarritu is taking me places and that's what I long for in a filmmaker. He's not taking any of us for granted and I'm very grateful for that. His movies are experiences and I for one can't wait for the next one.
I admire Gonzalez Inarritu's balls and his talent of course. He opens himself up for a barrage of criticism and ridicule but at the end his genius wins. I saw the film months ago and I still think about it. I haven't seen it again because the recollection is so powerful and I don't want to mess it up by seeing it again intentionally. The Mexican woman with the white kids in the desert has become part of my nightmares. What an enormous thing for a movie to accomplish. I'm giving it a 10 and not because I "like" the film so much but because I saw myself coming to the conclusion that the film is a masterpiece all on my own. It inspires respect. Christ! I can't believe I'm saying that but I am and I'm meaning every word. In a way it reminds me of Bunuel's "Viridiana" a film that I hated so much it has become one of the most important films of my life. Go figure. To be disturbed. I mean deeply disturbed is a strange experience and I suspect that it has to do with being confronted by the truth.
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