Babel

 
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by:Guillermo Arriaga
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kukuchi, Koji Yakusho
Released: December 26, 2006
Grade: A

Babel marks the third time that writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu have worked together on a major film.  In 2000, they crafted Amores Perros which is ranked the 142nd greatest film of all time on the Internet Movie Database.  The equally powerful 21 Grams was released in 2003 and earned Academy Award nominations for stars Benecio Del Toro and Naomi Watts.  There’s no denying that this talented Mexican duo know how to make a great movie.

In Babel, four different stories are told.  Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are an American couple on a holiday looking to rebuild their troubled marriage.  Amelia (Barraza) is a housekeeper living in the United States who is about to return home to Mexico for her son’s (Bernal) wedding.  Yuseef and Ahmed are two mischievous children from a poor but tight-nit Moroccan family.  Chieko (Kikuchi) is a deaf Japanese girl who is sick of her father (Yasujiro) and longs to find a boyfriend.      

These stories overlap but more importantly, there’s a common theme – our struggle to connect with one another.  We live in a world where it’s physically easy to communicate (thanks to phones, the internet, etc) and yet we are still divided by culture, race, language and financial status.  Even within our own homes, we create imaginary barriers to avoid dealing with problems and conflict.

It’s an interesting topic to explore and the film does so without telling us what conclusions to reach.  All you need do is watch the drama unfold and make of it what you will.  What are these characters thinking?  Why are they like the way they are?  Why are they masking their true feelings?  What’s great about the film is that we’ll all have different answers to these questions.  Some you will relate to.  Others you will not.

Shot in three countries and featuring four languages, Babel is a true example of international cinema.  Funnily enough, Gonzalez Inarritu faced the same problems that some of the characters did in his movie.  Not only was he working with non-professional actors, he had to get them to speak in languages (such as Arabic) that he didn’t even understand.  Thankfully for us, we get subtitles.

The film has received much publicity in the past week having been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards – more than any other film this year.  It includes nods for best picture, best director and best screenplay.  Three performances were singled out for nomination in the acting categories – Brad Pitt as Richard, Rinko Kikuchi as Chieko and Adriana Barraza as Amelia.  I’m not sure about Pitt’s nomination but the Globes have gotten it right by singling out Kikuchi and Barraza.  They were the two most interesting characters and the two I felt most empathy for.  I’d love to see them both nominated for an Oscar.

When it premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Babel won the best director prize.  Recent winners of the same award include Hidden, Elephant, Punch Drunk Love and Mulholland Drive.  It’s a magnificent list of films and I’m more than happy to see Babel join their company.