– Summary –
Director : Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast : Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Length : 143 Minutes
Synopsis: Four disparate groups of people have their lives irrevocably changed when a young boy shoots at a tourist bus in Morocco. When his wife is shot, a man has to make some hard decisions in a country with no medical system, barely anybody speaking English, and a partner who doesn’t have long to live. The shooter, a young Moroccan boy, begins a life-changing escape through the mountains of his homeland. Back in the US, the children of the man on the bus are taken to a wedding in Mexico by his housekeeper, with dire consequences. And in Japan, a young girl on the edge of suicide after the death of her mother is also brought into the drama in the most unlikely way.
Review : Stunning, almost documentary styled drama with riveting performance from every single member of the cast, professional actor or not. Four story-lines are brought together in a modern fable by a director at the height of his power. Brilliant cinema, and a must-see.
I want to state right from the outset that I think Babel is one of the finest films I think I’ve ever been privileged to witness. Staggering in scope and achievement, this film should be mandatory viewing to anybody who thinks the art of cinema is dead. Far from “entertaining” in the truest sense of the word, Babel will rock you with is pull-no-punches approach to film-making. Brad Pitt “stars” in this film, although he’s merely one of four short stories that are interwoven within the fabric of the narrative, each one linked to the other by fate, circumstance or just simple bad luck.
Also “starring” Cate Blanchett as Pitts wife, Babel is a reasonably simple premise that kicks you in the emotional guts and doesn’t let go until the very end. The film starts fairly innocently: a farmer in a distant, unnamed, middle east province purchases a rifle illegally to protect his flock of goats from prowling jackals. His two sons take the rifle out to the hills, to watch over their flock, and eventually decide to test the capabilities of the weapon. They start shooting at distant vehicles, including a bus filled with tourists.
One of the tourists on the bus is sitting calmly in her seat, when she is struck by a high velocity bullet through the window. Her husband, desperate to save her life, resorts to allowing the local people to care for her, as there are no doctors or hospitals for miles and miles, and she is fading fast. Contacting the embassy only creates more tension as the act of violence is seen as a terrorist act (the perpetrators have not yet been captured) and the country refuses entry of help from outside.
Meanwhile, the tourists children are back in the US, where their Mexican housekeeper has had to take them with her to her son’s wedding, across the border. And in Japan, a young deaf-mute girl who seeks emotional comfort following the tragic death of her mother goes on a journey of desperation to get what she wants.
How all these people link together is perhaps the films greatest asset (although, it must be said, the Japanese link to the four stories is the most tenuous, and perhaps slightly shoehorned into the plot to add some length) and it’s a credit to the director for bringing them together in a way that makes sense, provokes interest, and keeps you guessing.
Things go wrong, story-wise, as events precipitate desperation within each of our main characters, although oftentimes we are not too sure exactly who is the main focus of each story for a large percentage of the time. As events unfold, we are led on a highly charged, emotional roller-coaster of tension, emotion and ultimately hope, as our characters attempt to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. Babel is a sad film, and certainly not one to watch with a large group of friends and some pizza. It’s a film that you need to watch, rather than simply watch, as to miss any part will lessen the overall impact. There’s not a spare moment of extraneous cinema in the whole film, something not a lot of films would dare to try.
Pitt and Blanchett are the only cast Australian audiences will identify, and their performances are excellent. This is not a film where there are any truly “starring” roles, hence my use of inverted commas throughout. This is a true ensemble piece, even though the cast in each storyline never meet the others, except through voice or perhaps on TV. The Japanese girl, Cheiko, is played with an amazing grace by Rinko Kikuchi, and is a stand out, even if her plot doesn’t intersect with the others that much, and her bravura performance will stand the test of time as one of the most dazzling screen portrayals in recent memory, and was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
The young boys responsible for the chain reaction of events with the rifle, are first time actors, but it doesn’t show. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu produces the performances of their lives as they deliver naturalistic screen characters who are simply wonderful to watch. The use of local talent brings a heightened sense of realism to the film, as most of those people in the middle east country have never even seen a film camera before.
The cinematography is simply stunning, with a deeply rich colour palette drawing us further into each storyline through the textures and layers, and this is complemented by the Oscar winning score from Gustavo Santaolalla, which heightens the emotional content of the imagery perfectly.
Babel is a wonder, a simply staggering film achievement, made all the more so amazing by the behind the scenes problems and issues at hand. These can be seen on the bonus features of the 2 disc DVD available now. If you only see one film this year, make sure you see Babel. It’s a testament to the power of cinema, the creativity of the human spirit, and the power of a simple story well told that moves you, shakes you, and never lets you go. Staggering in it’s achievement and power, I simply have to give Babel a perfect score. It’s stunning.