Babel
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Babel

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The world we live in is far different that what most of us grew up. Through the elaborate means of near instant communication we have the world is no longer a distant place, more than ever it is in our living rooms. Small events that would be almost insignificant in other eras can now mushroom into global issues that affect millions. Mistakes that would go unnoticed now can decide the fate of lives remote to the actual events. This is at the heart of Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu's epic film ‘Babel’. Aptly named for the Biblical account where God punished man and his hubris by confusing their speech and spreading them to every corner of the earth. He makes the film work by addressing issues of global impact by focusing on individuals. This is not a movie to watch lightly. He demands and deserves your full attention. The individual stories seem disconnected for most of the film but through the talent of the cast and crew the do intersect by the end. There is an organic feel to this film that pulls the audience in and holds them. There are some out there that refer to this film as impossibly convoluted. Perhaps this is because the American public has been spoon feed simplistic and often mindless drivel with all sizzle and no substance. When a film that requires focus on the part of the audience comes along it may seem strange and overwhelming. Like a pebble that is carelessly tossed down a slope this film begins with something small that builds, slowly at first but soon picking up unstoppable momentum. It reflects real life in that way. One little event, one misstep can have drastic implications to people we never knew we were connected to. While this film does have its flaws they are the ones in common to mankind. There was a previous DVD release made awhile ago but now Paramount has come out with a special collector’s edition and once again they mean special.

In the stark land of southern Morocco, Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi) is trying to support his family by herding goats. Of late a pack of jackals have been attacking his herd. He buys a rife and some ammunition from a neighbor Hassan (Abdelkader Bara) and teaches his two teenage sons Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchini) to shoot. That night while watching the goats they decide to test out the range of the gun. They first shoot at rocks around their camp but soon get tired of that and shoot at a bus passing in the distance. Later they hear that a bus with American tourists was attacked by terrorist seriously injuring one. It turns out that the Americans on the bus were Richard (Brad Pitt) and his wife Susan (Cate Blanchett). They were trying to get away after the tragic death of their baby from SIDS. It was Susan who was hit by the stray bullet. Back in California their older two children, Mike (Nathan Gamble and Debbie (Elle Fanning) are under the care of their maid, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) an illegal immigrant from Mexico. This happens to be the weekend that her son is getting married. When Richard and Susan fail to return home on time Amelia calls her nephew Santiago (Gael García) to take her and the children to Mexico. One their way back the border patrol becomes suspicious of Amelia with two blonde, obviously American children in tow. The forth story in this complex drama is set far away in Japan. Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi) is a beautiful young woman who is deaf. Since the sudden suicide of her mother she has cut herself off from the world and refuses to speak. It was Chieko who first discovered her mother’s body. She resents her father Yasujiro Wataya (Kōji Yakusho) and acts out with promiscuity. This is the only way that Chieko is able to relate to men and is a desperate attempt to get back at her father. A couple of detectives including Kenji Mamiya (Satoshi Nikaido) come by with questions about her father. She initially thinks it has to do with her mother’s death but soon learns that the focus of the investigation is a recent hunting trip to Morocco he made.

This is a true tour de force for director Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu. With Babel he weaves a tapestry where each thread is brilliant on its own but the synergy created with their growing interaction is amazing. Like the account in the Bible this is a story about communication or the lack of it. A man in a foreign country desperately trying to ask people to help is wounded wife. There is the plight of an older woman with another couple’s children in her charge. She is unable to return them home because no one would believe an illegal with two American children. In a desolate country two teenagers feel the guilt of starting a chain of events that has gotten out of control. They are not able to tell anyone that it was all a horrible mistake. Last there is a young woman who feels betrayed by her father. She is isolated in a silent world that separates her from others. Like those scattered from the original tower of Babel these people are connected by their humanity but held apart by language. Each story has its own unique look and feel. The most drama is the one with Chieko where the audience is subjected to the silence the character lives for every day.

This is an amazing cast assembled here. While Brad Pitt is mostly known for his pretty boy image and famous, highly photographic family, this film reminds us that the man can act. He plays Richard as an understandable, fully human character. There is an empathy that Pitt conveys that leaps off the screen. You can’t help but to be touched by his performance. Cate Blanchett is one of the most talented actresses of her generation. She has a presence here even though most of her screen time is spent unconscious. The real standout performance in this film is given by Rinko Kikuchi. There is sensitivity to her work here that is compelling.

Paramount believes that when you re-issue a film already on DVD you better make it live up to the words ‘special edition’. The 1.85:1 anamorphic video and Dolby 5.1 audio are the same as with the original release but the second disc makes this worth the purchase. Instead of a lot of little extras that include deleted scenes and a few behind the scenes moments you get an in depth look at all aspects of the production called ‘Common Ground: Under Construction Notes’. This documentary of the creation of this film runs about an hour and twenty seven minutes. It begins with Iñárritu explaining the Biblical story to Fanning and Gamble. From there it travels the world with the cast and crew looking at the incredible challenge inherent in making a film of this scope. With locations literally spread over the globe the production company had to deal with local customs, world troubles and filming under extremely difficult conditions. This is the usual fluff piece; it is a serious look at the art of cinema under the most arduous conditions possible. This film is one to watch and enjoy over and over. You will even find yourself going back to the documentary to gain additional insight into a very creative project.

Posted 09/16/07

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