' ' Cinema Romantico: Babel

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Watching the most recent feature of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (his last was “21 Grams” which would have been a Prigge Top 5 Film of 2003 had this blog been in existence then) caused another of what I like to call Movie Viewing Phenomena. In this case, it was the phenomenon of Sinking Further and Further Into My Seat as the Film Progressed. This is not because the film is necessarily scary because scary isn’t the right word. It’s terrifying. Quite so, in fact.

Like all Inarritu films this one has a very fractured narrative, jumping back and forth in time and alternating between a quartet of stories. A father in Morocco buys a rifle for his kids to use to shoot jackals. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (providing names for the film) are a married couple “getting away” in Morocco. Except Blancett is a victim of a gunshot from the same rifle just mentioned. The children of the married couple are dragged to Mexico by their nanny for her son’s wedding. A deaf/mute girl in Japan is obsessed with love and anger and pain and pretty much everything else. These storylines are loosely connected via plot but they are connected on a different and much larger scale as well. Everyone here is trapped in a world they don’t understand. And in most cases trapped in a world in which they cannot even really communicate.

(Ah, gotta’ love those symbolic movie titles.)

After his wife is shot, Pitt takes her to the town of their group’s tour guide. But there is little help to be had. His fellow tourists just want to leave. The American government seems more concerned with denouncing the terrorists responsible for the shooting (whether or not terrorists are actually responsible) than with getting them aid. The Moroccan government seems more concerned with tracking down the culprit responsible to prove it wasn’t terrorism than with getting her aid. Not a position anyone wants to be in.

And as terrible as that is, the movie argues it’s no different from being a little kid and watching a chicken's neck wringed right in front of you. Or being a detective and finding out just who really is responsible for an act of violence. Or being deaf and mute and finding yourself in a dizzying night club.

It is a solid film, no doubt, but I found myself leaving with a bit of disappointment. Inarritu has shown us three times now ("Amores Perros" was his debut and structured much like "Babel" and "21 Grams") that he can make a movie coherent even if it is disjointed, but I yearn to see him try a single character piece. The emotion he can squeeze out of even the simplest moments is amazing and I would imagine it could be even more amazing if translated to a movie that started and stayed with one person. We see all the characters in "Babel" but we don't really know them. If we knew them "Babel" wouldn't just have been terrifying, it would have been haunting.

Instead I can't help but feel for all that goes on during its 2 hours plus that it's still a little empty.

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