March 21, 2007
Alejandro González Iñárritu,
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi, Koji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Said Tarchani, Mohamed Akhzam, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Pena,
The new wave of Mexican cinema officially arrived in 2006 with the presence of its three most well-known representatives at the 2007 Academy Awards: Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. All three directors had films nominated in various categories with Inarritu grabbing one for Best Picture for Babel (2006). Following the same structure as his previous effort, 21 Grams (2003), albeit on a much more ambitious scale, this film juggles several different storylines and attempts to show how they are all interconnected in some way.
It all starts with the purchase of a rifle by a farmer in Morocco. He gives it to his two boys who use it to protect their family’s herd of goats from jackals. They start messing around with the gun and take a shot at a passing bus. In San Diego, a woman is babysitting two small children but wants to go to her son’s wedding in Mexico so she asks her nephew Santiago (Bernal) to drive them all across the border for the occasion. Also in Morocco, an American couple – Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are having a stressful vacation together. There is visible tension between them but this quickly disappears when she is hit by a stray bullet while they are traveling on a tour bus. The bullet, as it turns out, came from the rifle in the possession of the two boys. In Tokyo, Chieko (Kikuchi), a mute-deaf teenage girl is dealing with the suicide of her mother, the strained relationship with her father and her desire to lose her virginity.
Babel does nice job providing a window into several different cultures – American, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Japanese – and immersing us in them. This helps keep each storyline distinctive along with utilizing different camerawork for each other. For example, the Morocco segment is messy, bloody and visceral as Susan is bleeding and in desperate need of medical attention or she will die. We are bombarded with the sights and sounds of each respective setting. Thankfully, Inarritu has toned down the frenetic editing of 21 Grams and the habit he had of arbitrarily jumping back and forth in time for a much more coherent effort with Babel.
Each storyline has its own dilemma that must be confronted and in some cases, it brings people closer together, like Richard and Susan who realize how precious life is. In others, characters are exposed to a new culture, like the two white children who experience a Mexican wedding. Babel examines how a minor action can have serious repercussions, like how the firing of a single bullet can ruin many people’s lives. The film also celebrates culture diversity as evident in the beautifully staged Mexican wedding that is a joyous celebration of life by the entire family and their friends. This is in sharp contrast to the dire situation in Morocco. And herein lies the real strength of this film – the ability to cover a wide spectrum of emotions, from gut-wrenching tragedy to euphoric bliss and everything in-between.