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Film Review


(November 22, 2006) Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga, whose very successful collaborations brought us 21 Grams and Amores Perros, have scored again in Babel. There are three separate story lines, each with its own sharply defined and well acted characters, all with the underlying theme of alienation. As in its biblical counterpart, the film is about the inability to communicate, both on a worldly level and an intimate level. In the world, because of language and culture, and on an intimate level, the difficulty in real communication. The first story begins with an American couple on a bus tour in Morocco. It then shifts its viewpoint to the Berbers, as two boys, herding goats, are given a rifle as a present, and the tragic consequences of a foolish act. The second story, set in San Diego, and later, Mexico, focuses on an older nanny caring for two young children whose parents are on a trip. She desperately wants to attend her son's wedding in Mexico but must care for the children, whom she genuinely loves. And the third story, the most compelling and painful to watch, is of a deaf mute Japanese teenager living with her father. She is angry, depressed, and acting out in outrageous sexual acts, like flashing boys. It isn't clear at first why she is so alienated and angry, but she becomes more and more reckless. Each story is complicated, with some sequences not linear, but the story lines are clear, although it isn't until the final third of the film that you can begin to see the convergence. The first two much more than the Tokyo tale. That connection is tenuous but the theme of alienation the same. Intended or not, the film makes a powerful comment on the relationship of children in each culture. This is a very fast paced film, and despite its nearly two and a half hours length, never drags. Most reviews have told much of the stories. This review is shorter than usual because I've deliberately not done so here. There are many surprises, although in rethinking the scenes, there are clues for most.

The cinematography is outstanding, as in their previous films. Each story has a very different setting: the stark beauty of the mountainous desert in Morocco, the rowdy, noisy, crowded, poor urban areas of the Mexican border, and finally, high tech Tokyo. The film is gorgeous, even in a Mexican border town, and the many close-ups seem to let us see into the characters. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play the American couple, and do it well. The acting is outstanding, particularly the principal characters in the other stories. Adriana Barraza, playing the nanny, and Rinko Kikuchi, playing the teenager, are brilliant, but even the secondary characters are excellent. And the music, much of it written for this film, is lovely and a good fit.

This is a masterful film, ambitious and powerful, that seems to me to be as good or better than its predecessors. There have been some articles about a conflict between the director (Inarritu) and his screenwriter (Arriaga) over appropriate credits. Pray they reconcile, and continue to turn out these great films. Like so many great films, this will be so much greater on the big screen than at home. Playing at the Bridge. Have a good Thanksgiving all.

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