Saturday, February 24, 2007

Babel: Grade B


Babel (2006)

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barazza. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu .

This is actually four mini-movies, the stories loosely connected, like Crash on a global scale. Two of the stories are in Morocco. A young shepherd takes a pot shot with his rifle at a tour bus over a mile away. By chance, the bullet hits the bus, shooting Blanchett in the neck, horrifying her husband Pitt (although there’s no way the ballistics work out. The kid shoots at the bus coming toward him way down in the valley, but the bullet enters the bus from a side window). One story then is Pitt trying to get medical help for his wife in the middle of nowhere. He shows some moments of acting though mainly shouting and flailing, and Blanchett has nothing to do but bleed and pee so she is wasted. Meanwhile, the police search for the shooter, and spotting him, his brother, and their father on a hillside, they jump out of their jeeps and open fire, no questions asked, killing the boy’s brother. End of that story. A helicopter arrives from the US Embassy and whisks Pitt and Blanchett away. End of that story.

Those two stories could have been made into a good 90 minute movie by applying some writers. The remaining two stories are not related. An illegal Mexican nanny (Barazza) takes care of Pitt and Blanchett’s two archetypally cute 6 year old children in San Diego. She takes them to her son’s wedding in Tijuana. Drinking dancing, and chicken chasing ensue, and when her drunk nephew (Garcia-Bernal) drives them home, they are busted at the border. She has to remain in Mexico. She protests to US border patrol, “But I have made a life of 16 years here.” The BP answers thoughtfully and compassionately, “You should have thought of that before.” We don’t know what happens to her nephew. The children somehow make it home. End of that story.

Finally, there is the story of a deaf-mute teenager in Tokyo, played extremely well by Kikuchi. She is on a mission to lose her virginity, to prove to herself that she is a normal person, not a monster. She tries to pick up boys twice at clubs, and makes moves on her dentist and a police officer, all to no avail. Finally her father comes home to find her standing nude on the apartment’s balcony, possibly contemplating a jump, and they embrace. End of that story.

Each of the four movies is beautifully filmed. The sense of locations are palpable, the colors and compositions are gorgeous, and the music is haunting and enjoyable in its own right. And it is quite an accomplishment to create three completely different worlds, each so convincing. Unfortunately, that’s also why the overall project runs to an inexcusable 2.5 hours. There are pockets of acting, especially by Kikuchi. There are a couple of stunning visual moments, as when Blanchett is shot or when Kikuch appears naked. I give the move a generous B for many cinematic virtues. However, there is no narrative reason for this movie.

Call me old-fashioned, but I insist that movies tell a story, or even four stories, if that’s what they want. This is like four random slices of life connected by vague gestures. There are a few themes. The difficulty of communication is highlighted by the deaf-mute girl, by Pitt trying to get help in Morocco, and by the nanny’s Spanglish. But that hardly amounts to a thesis of global Babel. We note that when people use poor judgment there are bad consequences. We see that children should not be left unattended. We are reminded how government intrudes on everyday life. Fate and destiny are invoked. But, bottom line, there is no compelling story told anywhere in this movie and that makes it slow and hard to watch.

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