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USA/Mexico 2006
Directed by
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
147 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

Babel

Synopsis: In a remote village in Morocco two young boys fool around with a gun, shooting at a tourist bus for fun. Susan (Cate Blanchett) is badly injured and her husband Richard (Brad Pitt) is at his wits’ end to get help. Back in San Diego, Amelia (Adriana Barraza,) nanny to Susan and Richard’s two children, decides to cross the border with them into Mexico for her son’s wedding. Over in Japan, deaf mute Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is desperate to connect with others, especially boys, and causes much grief for her widowed father Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho), who, as it turns out, has an important connection to the events in Morocco.

Babel which completes a stylistic and thematic trilogy begun with Amores Perros (2000) and continued in 21 Grams (2003) is as intimate and moving as it is sweepingly ambitious. Director Iñárritu has spoken of being inspired by the unbridgeable differences between people as represented by the biblical Tower of Babel but what he has ended up with is a film about what ultimately unites us – and that is love and pain.

Although Babel consists of four seemingly different stories, the connections becomes evident as the plot shifts constantly between all the protagonists. What becomes quickly apparent in all four plot threads is the sense of alienation, as well as that of connection between all the characters. Susan and Richard are on holiday in an attempt to repair their marriage, and the shift they undergo is monumental. Amelia is working illegally, cut off from her son in Mexico, but devotedly attached to her two young charges, as if they were her own, a dedication which is ironically lost on US border guards who refuses to hear what Amelia is trying to tell them. In Morocco the story of the two brothers and their father is imbued with loss and tragedy. And in Japan the desperation of Chieko to connect and be loved is heart-breaking, as is her loving father’s attempts to keep her safe and close. All four stories are imbued with great tension and passion; all four have elements to which we can all relate: they speak of the human condition.

The casting add interest to Iñárritu’s film. This is certainly the best performance I’ve ever seen Pitt give, and Blanchett, though not in a huge role, is, as always, persuasive. Yasujiro brings depth of emotion to his role, while Kikuchi is magnificent as his troubled daughter. Gael Garcia Bernal  also appears in a small, but critical, role as Santiago, the headstrong nephew of Amelia. Bazarra as Amelia elicits such empathy with a performance to remember. Along with some high-profile actors, Iñárritu also employs many locals, some of whom had never seen a movie camera. Many of the smaller roles, too numerous to mention, are played with sensitivity, thoughtfulness and deep emotion. All the young actors, such as those playing the two Moroccan brothers, and those playing the children in America, rise skilfully to the challenges.

Babel is exquisitely beautiful on every level. Firstly it looks magnificent, with its fine cinematography and authentic settings, shot on four vastly different locations. Each story has its unique look, pulling you into the geography and individual emotion of its characters. Especially impressive (and novel) is the way we are allowed into the silent world of Chieko, when she goes off to a disco. The dramatic differences between the stark Moroccan deserts and spare villages, the crazy vibrancy of Mexico and the super-modernity of Tokyo all underline the individual journeys and give the audience the sense of being right there.

The icing on the cake is the brilliant music by Gustavo Santaolalla, who also composed the Oscar-winning score for Brokeback Mountain.

 

 

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