Monday, February 5, 2007

Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barrazza, Rinko Kikuchi

"A single gunshot heard around the world"

Cinema 4, Greenbelt 3

Babel is an interwoven tale about the ripple effects of the firing of a rifle which connects 4 families in different countries presented in a non linear manner by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu.

The film begins in the sparse arid mountains of Morocco then weaves through a Mexican town colorfully decked for a wedding and moves on to the hectic vibrant city of Tokyo. The scenes jump back and forth among these cities, cleverly edited so our vision isn't impaired by distractions. The incident which holds the film together is the accidental shooting of an American tourist traveling in a tour bus in Morocco.

Morocco as the scene of the crime focuses on the 2 young goat herders and their daily existence as well as the repercussions of the shooting incident. We are shown aspects of a small Moroccan village called Tazarine where the couple seek help. The lack of basic human needs like a hospital or a telephone or even a car. The remote location peppered with clay houses but sustained by the peaceful demeanor of its inhabitants who offer their foreign guests some Arabic tea and nourishment - obvious signs of Middle Eastern hospitality. In contrast, the tourists are wary and feel threatened for their lives, fearing some imminent terrorist attack on their person.

In contrast to the sparseness of Morocco, Mexico is depicted as noisy, chaotic and colorful. A small town decked with decorations for a wedding. People are boisterous and in a celebratory mood. Food is abundant, a Mariachi band regales the guests with rhythmic music, a lot of dancing and merry making ensues. Then a nasty incident at the Mexican - US border pierces through the darkness like a thief in the night. I think this part held the most poignant scenes of the film filled with various emotions of fear, desperation and helplessness.

Tokyo with its J pop, neon lights and tall skyscrapers making it one of the most noisiest cities in the world is strangely presented through a deaf mute teenager. I think that Inarritu focused too long in this part of the world, given that its connection to the 'incident' was quickly resolved early on. Yet it was also the most complex of all the stories combined. It had all the necessary ingredients to form a separate film all on its own merits. It also had the most cinematographic scenes present in the entire movie. Shots of dancing lights inside a disco with really loud music, the pristine clear skyline of Tokyo with its tall skyscrapers and the scenes of a busy Tokyo street life with baskers and young Japanese teenagers dressed in short school uniforms. It also featured a scene reminiscent of "Lost in Translation" where people would never know and just speculate about the note which Cheiko gave the detective.

The film has the grainy tone of a documentary. Some scenes are presented in a non linear manner yet it is quite easy to figure out and connect the pieces together. Music depicting each culture also plays a big part in sustaining the dramatic sequences. The dialogue is multi-lingual with English subtitles. An ensemble cast of different nationalities with known celebrities as well as first time actors all give credible acting performances.

The common theme which links all of these locations and the characters together is miscommunication and its implications. The news bureau mistakenly portray the incident as terrorist attacks. The incident at the Mexican - US border gets ugly because of misconceptions. The misguided Japanese teenager cannot properly communicate her need for attention because she is a deaf mute.

In this respect, I feel that Inarritu himself didn't do justice to the main theme of his film by his failure to provide more conclusive details regarding the fate of certain characters. Several loose ends remain unresolved. Sure, you can say that it can be deduced or implied but sometimes it helps to see 'concrete' visual evidence of a storyline coming to a coherent ending. I honestly expected "Babel" to be more grittier and more complex in its presentation. The last question I had pondering in my mind as the end credits rolled by and I would pose to Innaritu if I could would be 'Donde esta Santiago?'

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