Global heartache

Submitted by cathy n on 30 January, 2007 - 3:36

Sofie Buckland reviews Babel

The latest effort from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, is over two-and-a-half hours of intense misery. Which would be fine, had Iñárritu not made it such hard work to empathise with a single one of his characters. A tale of emotional heartache centred around miscommunication (hence the title), the film drips with anguished expressions, heavy music and lingering shots of the desolate landscapes it’s set in, but somehow still manages to come across as very cold.

From the unbelievable opening sequence (where two Moroccan boys shoot at cars to “test” their father’s new rifle, seemingly thinking they’ll cause no harm when they hit a tour bus) to the confusing non-chronological sequence of the four different stories, many plot details seem contrived to allow Iñárritu to keep all four strands loosely connected.

The main three, following the Moroccan goat herding family, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett as American tourists in Morocco and their children at home in San Diego with their Mexican nanny, fit together reasonably well.

The fourth, following a deaf-mute Japanese girl, Chieko, through Tokyo as she struggles with her disability and burgeoning sexuality, deserves a film of its own, and is frustrating in its extremely tenuous link to the other three strands.

Even at nearly three hours in length, the film fails to properly establish the characters, leaving the audience emotionally detached.

On the plus side, the visuals are stunning, and the calibre of the acting extremely high. Individual set-pieces like Chieko’s visit to a nightclub, where the soundtrack is turned off so we experience it as she does, are extremely well-conceived, and rescue the film from being boring.

Politically, Babel is set against the back-drop of Bush’s administration, with the extremely tense Mexican border scene featuring portraits of Bush and Cheney in the background and the American embassy’s suspicion of terrorism used as a plot device. However, the rest of the film appears to be sending a “one world” message of global solidarity through shared suffering; a concept which fails when the rich white folks come off best in the end. It isn’t clear whether Iñárritu intended this irony.

In summary, if you want to watch a bunch of people you are given no incentive to care about go through horrible experiences in beautiful settings, go see Babel. Iñárritu’s early films, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, deal with similar multiple strand stories and extremes of emotion much more realistically; the law of diminishing returns is very much at work here.

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