Saturday, January 27, 2007

Babel

Sadly mispronounced by many as 'babble' (whoever heard of the Tower of Babble?), the central concept of this film is the difficulty of real communication between individuals and cultures and the many reasons for this. Shoved on top of this pivotal exploration are modern day themes of insecurity, immigration, societal dislocation and interconnection and individual alienation. That said, it is also a kind of action murder mystery with big name actors jammed in to catch the eye.

Inarritu cleverly weaves these elements into an absorbing tale full of narrative jolts and fantastically sensitive penetrations of individual lives from vastly disparate cultures. No easy task, though anyone who has seen 21 Grams knows just how well the director can tell a story and how much he can get from his actors.

The linking of the four component stories is possibly a little redundant. Films like Short Cuts and more recently Crash have used this device to good effect to show how small our worlds really are. The real power in Babel is how close to the characters we get and how much we are able to identify with them. Inarritu draws us into a Morrocan village on the edge of the Sahara, a community wedding in northern Mexico, the world of a traumatised, deaf adolescent teenage girl in Tokyo. A desperate chase into the hills, pursued by police; a terrifying trip at night across the US desert; confusion and joy followed by crushing disappointment upon a first experience of Ecstasy. All these contexts grip us and pull us close to the characters, every one of them victims often of nothing more than fate.

The fact that all these characters face some of the same forces silently arrayed against them as well as their own individual woes does not really need a device to physically link them for the film to succeed and it feels a little too formulaic as the truth dawns on the viewer. The vitality and grittiness of the stories as they play out makes this an emotionally charged experience however and the need for a little commercial gloss to balance this out can be forgiven in a work of this calibre.

One of the major flaws in fact comes with the performance of Brad Pitt who is miscast with Cate Blanchett. There is no chemistry between them. It is hard to imagine them as a real couple and even harder to imagine they have a family together. It's not that the director can't get the best out of big stars - Benicio del Torro was truly awesome in 21Grams - but quite simply that for Brad at least this is beyond his range. Blanchett is kind of anonymous as the gunshot victim central to the linking of the stories - a surprise given her magnetism in some other films but then again she doesn't have much dialogue to work with.

The real power in this film comes from its humanity and hard, unprotective look at individuals in crisis and some may find it less than distracting because of this. Sometimes though there is much to be gained from a good hard look at what it is that makes people act as they do in the face of impossible situations.

Often the same culprits can be seen lurking in the background: fear, loneliness, oppression, desperation, confusion.

1 comment:

ml said...

didn't quite like Babel. thought it was over-rated, like Crash. the script is ambitious, but turns stilted in the end (same writer for 21 grams, i think). broke my "no brad pitt movie" rule to see it because of inarritu. still well made, but his fellow mexican directors made much better films last yr - Children of Men and Pan's Labyrinth.