Monday, November 20, 2006


Directed by: Alexandero Gonzalez Innarity
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barazza, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Koji Kakusho, Gael Garcia Bernal

In Innaritu's Babel, the third in a trilogy of films with similar themes (the first two being Amores Perros and 21 Grams, 4 different stories contain tragedy caused by the language barrier. A Morrocan family buys a gun from a local merchant so their sons can scare the jackals away. The two sons play with the gun on a mountaintop to see if it can shoot as far as the merchant said it could. One of them, clearly the better shot, shoots at a faraway Tourist bus. They don't notice anything at first but then they see the bus stop. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are a couple vacationing in Morocco when Blanchett is badly wounded. They are taken to the nearest village where she can be treated. In the United States, a Mexican nanny (Adriana Barazza) takes two of the children she is babysitting to Mexico on her son's wedding, but has trouble getting back. And in Japan, a Japanese deaf-mute teen rebel (Rinko Kikuchi) desperately tries to cure her lonlieness. We do not know how these stories are connected at first, because the timelines do not work in the same way. But it will gradually become clear, not as a big relevation or twist but as a realization made over many hints.

Babel is one of the most powerful movies I've seen this year. It contains gorgeous, Oscar worthy cinematography by Rodrigo Prieta (who should have won the Oscar last year for Brokeback Mountain), and Innaritu brings a sense of genius to his direction. There are two scenes of grandiosity, like the Mexican wedding or a nightclub Kikuchi goes to, where the exremely loud music occaisonally is turned off completely so we can slip inside her deaf, silent world. Then from these fun scenes the movie takes a dark turn into the emotionally unbearable - watching Barazza stumble across the desert with her children is heartbreaking, and her plea to the border patrol...

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett give very good performances, but somehow they seem weaker when compared to Rinko Kikuchi, an face that will be new to American audiences. In fact, all performances this year seem weak when compared to Rinko Kikuchi's. She blows everyone out of the water. She communicates so much without speaking you feel you could read her mind. Her character is unable, because of her disability, to properly express her grief over her mother's suicide. Innaritu makes the right choice letting most of the screen time be on her storyline. Koji Yakusho, as her father, is another fine performance in this movie. Barazza is herself worthy of an Oscar nomination. Innaritu brings great performances from his Moroccan non-actors, a skill most Hollywood director's don't understand. They would not be able to handle anything beyond Pitt and Blanchett. Gael Garcia Bernal brings a surprising amout of gusto to a very small role, and we worry about his character at the end. He embodies the kind of person children and most adults like before ever really knowing him in the first place.

Although Gustavo Santaolalla composed the score I was not really aware of it. Where is it? Two key pieces of music at the end, are not composed originally for the film. When Blanchett is lifted in the helicopter it plays Santaolalla's own "Iguaza" which was previously used in Michael Mann's The Insider (1999). And the final piece played at the end is another piece by a different Japanese composer. I wonder...?

Babel, with all due credit to Innaritu, is a film for the actors, and since the actors in this film are extraordinary, this is a great film.

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