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Babel

Drama movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Probably spoils some of the plot, so be warned

  • Feb 24, 2007
Rating:
+4
Pros: Story in general, acting, particularly with regards to the children

Cons: One of the storylines seems tacked on for political reasons

The Bottom Line: This is a difficult and touching story told in many languages. Not for a casual viewer. Still recommended.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

Babel is a theme based movie rather than one driven by plot. It has several plotlines that intersect in very tangential ways. The question is whether these themes work.

There is the Susan (Kate Blanchett) and Richard (Brad Pitt) storyline: Husband and wife are in Morocco, apparently to patch up a rocky relationship. While the tourist bus they are on is in transit Susan gets shot. This causes a frantic situation where Richard finds himself and his wife the victim of international misunderstandings between the US and Morocco about whether the shooting was by terrorists or something else.

Anwar (Mohamed Akzam) buys a rifle from a neighbor so he can keep jackals away from his goats. His sons Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) are the principle goatherds, so they will share the rifle. Yussef, the younger brother, is a better shot and his older brother hates this. In an attempt to prove that the bullets will travel the 3 kilometers the neighbor promised, they start shooting. A tourist bus comes into view and it becomes pretty obvious that Yussef’s attempt to prove the distance worked. They panic and head back home. This is how plotline b intersects with plotline a above.

The third one involves Richard’s and Susan’s children and their nanny. Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Ella Fanning) are in the care of their undocumented nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza). Her son is getting married and Richard has called from the hospital in Morocco to try to arrange it so she can go, but no one can sit with the children. Her only option is to go to Mexico with the children. On the way back, her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) breaks through a border crossing and leaves Amelia and the children stranded in the desert promising to come back. This is plotline c intersecting with plotline a.

The fourth is in Tokyo. Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a deaf teen whose mother is dead (later we find out by suicide with a gun). She has a difficult relationship with her father, Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) as every teenaged girl is going to have. She spends her time with her friends being very sexually frustrated and angry. On her way home from one frustrating evening the police approach her about her father. She believes this is because of the investigation, months earlier, about her mother. It isn’t; it involves a hunting rifle that was registered to him. Months earlier Yasujiro was in Morocco hunting. He gave his rifle to his guide. This is where plot d intersects plot b.

I have given them an arbitrary order—in the movie they are all coequal. They are all told in intersecting mini-chapters. Each plotline is in a linear order, but it isn’t until the end that you discover the order of the events as a whole.

It wasn’t until I started writing the review that it all clicked and I understand. There is a so-so film called 20 Bucks which follows a $20 bill from person to person for a hundred minutes—the only thing that links them is the piece of currency. In Babel it is the rifle (this is tangential for the Amelia and children story, but still linked because we see what the impact would be if the children are left motherless—more on this in a moment). The problem is that you have to hold all the disparate pieces together for over two hours; if you prefer movies with standard plots, this not for you. If you liked Traffic and Crash then you will at least not be bothered by the narrative structure of Babel.

The film succeeds brilliantly in three areas. Like the other one word titled films, the camerawork is driven mostly by handheld units. This gives the viewer a much more voyeuristic aspect than standard dolly driven cameras. This means you become more emotionally attached to the characters (at least in my opinion). The movie is also 4 stories of varying chaos, so the shaky camera makes sure you are never quite on level or balanced ground.

Babel of course is pointing to the biblical story of how the earth came to be covered in many languages. The Moroccan form of Arabic, English, French, Mexican, Japanese, and Japanese sign language each have a place (French only a small one, in the spirit of full disclosure). What this implies would ordinarily be confusion. But director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriga make sure that there are rather long stretches without anyone speaking, but using gestures to make themselves understood (most simply with a hug, most complexly with sign language). Hand shakes, hands in the position of surrender, praying, and several other gestures that are nearly universal are given equal footing with spoken language. So rather than confusion, what we have is something surprisingly easy to understand, and beautiful in its presentation.

The third is, to me, the most touching and thing that will last longest in memory. Despite Pitt and Blanchett (who each put in performances equal to their usual high quality), the actors who shine are the children. Ahmed and Yussef are brilliant. The sibling rivalry and the immediate attachment as brothers after the tragedy are so realistic that it seems like watching a home movie. Mike and Debbie are the same, just a couple of years younger. They bare the weight of the sins of the adults who are entrusted with their care—the sins were not ones of motive but of accident, but sins all the same. Their joy, their fear, their shock are all heart-rending. Cheiko does the teenage angst plus the additional angst of not fitting into a culture that demands conformity that she cannot truly make happen seem just as real and shocking as the younger children in their roles. I think the message that runs through the story of the dangers of guns (which seems kind of pedestrian and trite just saying it) is so subtle and maturely handled that it is just tragedy and pathos instead of a message movie.

The one thing that doesn’t really work for me is the Amelia story. For all intents and purposes, and due to an emotional trauma for Richard and Susan, she is Mike’s and Debbie’s mother. Her story of being undocumented and having to return to Mexico is sad, and extremely well acted, but doesn’t really fit the main theme of the movie. It doesn’t exactly feel like it was tacked on because it is as professionally done, but in the final analysis, it is difficult to know where to put it.

It is a thoughtful movie that requires all of your attentions. It is a film that you can watch more than once and get more out of with each viewing. It isn’t perfect, but it is worth the time and effort.

Recommended:
Yes

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More Babel reviews
review by . March 06, 2009
With direction similar to Crash, this movie focused on the plight of three different sets of kids. Two young kids are staying with their Mexican housekeeper while their parents are traveling in Morocco. Their mother gets shot which prevents the parents from returning. The housekeeper meanwhile needs to attend her son's wedding across the boarder in Mexico. With nobody else to care for the kids and not wanting to miss the wedding, she takes the kids with her and her "shady" nephew to Mexico for the …
review by . April 16, 2009
In Genesis Chapter 11 it is said that men, unified under one common language, decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens, proving that they were greater then God. They were to call this tower Babel. God, sensing that united nothing would be impossible for them, confused their languages to prevent the tower from being finished. Years later people have found the ability to learn other languages but the language barriers still causes lots of problems. None the least of which is in "Babel," …
review by . April 28, 2009
DVD
Several stories set in places around the world are related only by a freak accident with a rifle: An American couple (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchette) are on a tour bus in the Moroccan desert when the wife is shot by a some poor children who are trying out their new rifle. Back home in San Diego, the couple's housekeeper takes their children across the border into Mexico with near-tragic results, while the rifle is traced to a businessman in Japan.     The separate-but-ultimately-related-stories …
review by . November 01, 2008
Although this movie's very long   And jumps around quite madly   You'll find it's really all about   People behaving badly     Moroccan boys play with a gun   Without a passing thought   That shooting at a passing bus   Would wreak the wrath it wrought     A couple is vacationing   But not having much fun   They're fighting over everything   Since losing their young son …
review by . March 25, 2007
It is difficult to make one good film, but director Iñárritu manages to make three good short movies. I expected the stories to be connected in a strenuous manner. Instead, I was treated with an interesting and emotionally satisfying production that succeeds in making a point that the world is a very small place. Brad Pitt is barely recognizable with a beard and several wrinkles. But the imperfection of his features doesn't matter when compared with the realistic passion behind his performance as …
review by . March 12, 2007
With direction similar to Crash, this movie focused on the plight of three different sets of kids. Two young kids are staying with their Mexican housekeeper while their parents are traveling in Morocco. Their mother gets shot which prevents the parents from returning. The housekeeper meanwhile needs to attend her son's wedding across the boarder in Mexico. With nobody else to care for the kids and not wanting to miss the wedding, she takes the kids with her and her "shady" nephew to Mexico for the …
review by . February 19, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
In Genesis Chapter 11 it is said that men, unified under one common language, decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens, proving that they were greater then God. They were to call this tower Babel. God, sensing that united nothing would be impossible for them, confused their languages to prevent the tower from being finished. Years later people have found the ability to learn other languages but the language barriers still causes lots of problems. None the least of which is in "Babel," …
review by . January 15, 2007
A towering achievement, 'Babel,' provides a great alchemy. Last year's best films often had twisty, interlocking plots that came together from fragmented lives. 'Babel' continues this trend where few films have gone since. Not only that but the beautiful cinematography (courtesy Rodrigo Prieto) and the wonderfully placed soundtrack from Gustavo Santanella (both of 'Brokeback Mountain' fame) are just a few of the nuances in this brilliant movie. Having some of the feel of 'Syriana,' 'Babel' digs …
review by . December 27, 2006
Pros: Well written story; well acted; timely.     Cons: None     The Bottom Line: Babel was in short, a stunning movie and it stayed with me long after I had left the theater, but it is a long movie so bring a cushion.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot. I am a student of the unintended consequence, which means that I also fancy myself a critical thinker. A critical thinker weighs, or at least …
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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Brilliantly conceived, superbly directed, and beautifully acted,Babelis inarguably one of the best films of 2006. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his co-writer, Guillermo Arriaga (the two also collaborated onAmores Perrosand21 Grams) weave together the disparate strands of their story into a finely hewn fabric by focusing on what appear to be several equally incongruent characters: an American (Brad Pitt) touring Morocco with his wife (Cate Blanchett) become the focus of an international incident also involving a hardscrabble Moroccan farmer (Mustapha Rachidi) struggling to keep his two young sons in line and his family together. A San Diego nanny (Adriana Barraza), her employers absent, makes the disastrous decision to take their kids with her to a wedding in Mexico. And a deaf-mute Japanese teen (the extraordinary Rinko Kikuchi) deals with a relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho) and the world in general that's been upended by the death of her mother. It is perhaps not surprising, or particularly original, that a gun is the device that ties these people together. YetBabelisn't merely about violence and its tragic consequences. It's about communication, and especially the lack of it--both intercultural, raising issues like terrorism and immigration, and intracultural, as basic as husbands talking to their wives and parents understanding their children. Iñárritu's command of his medium, sound and visual alike, ...
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