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

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


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 trying to get help in such an impoverished place. Back in San Diego, Amelia (Adriana Barraza), nanny to Susan and Richard’s two children, decides to cross the border into Mexico for her son’s wedding taking hte children with her. 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 the 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 resonates with ill-fated 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.

The casting adds 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 empathy with a performance to remember. Along with some high-profile actors, many of the smaller roles, too numerous to mention, are played with sensitivity, thoughtfulness and deep emotion with Iñárritu judiciously making use of many Moroccan locals. All the young actors, such as those playing the two Moroccan brothers, and those playing the children in America(including the already extensively experienced Elle Fanning), rise skilfully to the challenges.

Babel is exquisitely beautiful on every level. Firstly it looks magnificent, with its fine cinematography and authentic settings, shot in four vastly different locations which resonate with the stories of its characters. The dramatic differences between the stark Moroccan landscape with its dilapidated 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. Especially impressive is the way we are allowed into the silent world of Chieko, when she goes to a disco.The icing on the cake is the brilliant music by Gustavo Santaolalla, who also composed the Oscar-winning score for Brokeback Mountain (2005).

My only reservations concern the film's length (but this is arguably justified in order to achieve the film's emotional potency) and, given their relationship's fragility, the rationale for Richard and Susan's offspring-free getaway and, why Morocco of all places? Notwithstanding, all four stories are imbued with depth and passion and have elements to which we can all relate.




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