I went into the theaters to see Babel not knowing anything about it, mainly because it is an independent film and advertising for this picture has been minimal. I only knew that it starred Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal, but I knew nothing of the plot. So that you have a better idea about this amazing and emotional film, I’ll do my best to give you some insight into it before entering the theater.
In some ways Babel reminded me of last year’s Best Picture winner, Crash, mainly because it has one of those interlocking plots where seemingly unrelated people become intertwined as the narrative unfolds. Babel focuses on three stories, set in Morocco, Japan and Mexico. The story begins with a tragedy striking a grieving married couple (Pitt and Blanchett) on vacation in Morocco; two young boys being given a rifle; a Mexican Nanny forced to take care of two white children on her son’s wedding day and a deaf Japanese girl trying to fit in with society.
I felt tense throughout the film because of the sometimes uncomfortable and emotional stories, which kept escalating on screen. Escalation is a good descriptor for the overall storyline of the film and the power of cause and effect, since the three separate stories demonstrate how one little action can set a chain of events in motion and effect people outside of your own life.
My tension was only heightened due to the fact that the dialogue was minimal and instead replaced by the steady drumbeat of exotic percussion music, which played throughout the intense scenes keeping my heart racing in time with the quick beat.
After seeing the film I pondered the title and discovered that ‘babel’ refers to the Hebrew Bible story about the Tower of Babel, where people attempted to build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto Heaven. God punished the people for their audacity by dividing the world with thousands of languages, prohibiting people from communicating as easily. Thus, the builders of the tower were unable to understand one another and their project failed and scattered to different parts of the earth. Lack of communication and miscommunication is a big theme in Babel since many languages are spoken and in turn unheard. For example, the main female character in the Japanese story, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is deaf and as a result in many sequences sound is eliminated from the scenes all together, effectively showing her challenge to understand events and to be understood in return.
Babel is boldly directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who directed Amores perros and 21 Grams. In this film, he showcases his refreshing technique once again with smooth story transitions and interesting camera pans. At first though it took me and my friends a few minutes to get caught up to speed with the story, while some aspects are not illuminated till three quarters into the film. I wish the film started with captions letting audiences know the locations they were seeing, instead of having to piece it together as it went along. The back and forth in time might be a bit confusing for some, but I appreciated the puzzle.
I was surprised though to see that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett played some what minor roles in comparison to the other actors in the film. Their performances were good and their characters are important, but they were not the only ones. I was mainly impressed with all the child actors in the film and Kikiuchi’s soul-searching role as a brazen yet vulnerable coming-of-age deaf girl dealing with personal tragedy. In the final scene her emotional performance had me crying with empathy for her character.
Even though the film is 2 hour and 22 minutes long, the time went unnoticed by me since I eagerly awaited restitution and some closure for each storyline.
The Upside: A powerful and intelligent emotional roller coaster of a film.
The Downside: Some scenes are gorey and a bit gritty and raw.
On the Side: Rinko Kikuchi spent a year auditioning and learning sign language for her role.
Overall Grade: A-
Tara Settembre is a Senior Critic for Film School Rejects