306 – Babel

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 (Chieko).

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 begining, except told from a different character’s perspective. That’s a tribute to the wonderful camerawork 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 lonliness 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.

***1/2

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3 Responses to “306 – Babel”

  1. 2008 Movies to Wait for « Frothy Ruminations Says:

    […] 20. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (November 26). In this David Fincher film based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, Button (Brad Pitt) is a man who ages backwards, which causes trouble when he falls for Cate Blanchett. Fincher’s films are always a bit different and entertaining, and Pitt and Blanchett were wonderful together in Babel. […]

  2. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » 2008 Movies to Wait for Says:

    […] 20. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (November 26). In this David Fincher film based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, Button (Brad Pitt) is a man who ages backwards, which causes trouble when he falls for Cate Blanchett. Fincher’s films are always a bit different and entertaining, and Pitt and Blanchett were wonderful together in Babel. […]

  3. Frothy Ruminations » Blog Archive » Oscars 2007 Says:

    […] Babel The Departed Letters from Iwo Jima Little Miss Sunshine The Queen […]

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