Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Movie review: Babel
Maty and I finally got around to watching Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu's 2006 release, Babel. I say "finally" because the movie came highly-recommended by certain of my circle of friends whom I consider to be cinematic aficionados (especially Jim Kidwell). The flick is billed as the last of a trilogy by Iñárritu (his so-called "death" trilogy), the first two components of which are Amores Perros and 21 Grams. (I have seen 21 Grams, and remember it as being worth the watch. Amores Perros has been warmly accoladed by many of my friends.)
The film consists of four seemingly unconnected stories that occur in Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. As the film progresses, Iñárritu displays extraordinary skill in developing a cultural ambiance that is appropriate for the particular story that is being developed at any given moment.
For example, as we follow the story of deaf-mute Chieko Wataya (brilliantly played by Rinko Kikuchi in the film's standout performance) in Tokyo, the cinematography and camera work imparts the feel of a fast-paced cosmopolitan world, where a lonely, grieving teenager is on her own as she deals with the suicide of her mother.
In contrast, as we follow the intertwined tales of Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) and the family of Abdullah the goat-herd, the ambiance is decidedly alien and uncomfortable. Miscommunication leads to tragic consequences as mistrust and lack of understanding clouds the perceptions of all involved. As western and Middle-Eastern cultures clash, Iñárritu presents a microcosmic reflection of the larger global issues that we face today.
American viewers will probably relate best to the environment displayed in the story of Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the Jones' nanny who is minding their two children while they travel. The story starts out in San Diego where the two children play with a nanny that they obviously love and trust even though she is different from them. As she takes them to Mexico in order to attend her son's wedding, the children enter a world that, although existing on their very doorstep, is strange and alien. Their mother has told them that Mexico is dangerous. ("It is," says Amelia's nephew, Santiago. "It's full of Mexicans.") As we watch the two American children enter the Mexican world, tentatively at first, then adjusting and becoming comfortable, Iñárritu again displays his deftness at condensing larger social issues into a comprehensible story.
The film is complex. A theme of isolation, displayed in the forlorn solitude of each of the characters, runs throughout the unfolding story lines. But as the connections between each of the stories are revealed, we are reminded of the commonality of humankind: love, fear, vulnerability. And, like all the best stories, we are left feeling saddened, aggrieved, sanguine, and hopeful.
I recommend this film.