22 February 2007

Babel バベル בָּבֶל Βαβέλ

After a failed attempt that led me to another movie and a couple of weeks, I went to see Babel yesterday.

Babel, written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, has a multinational cast and is, of course, spoken in several languages. It's made of three interweaving stories: one in and around the border between the United States and Mexico; the other in Morocco; and the other in Japan (I think I saw the Tokyo Tower and I saw a sign that read Shinjuku, but that was the only indication). The English-speaking audience will immediately recognize Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt; the Latin American audience will probably be familiar with Gael García Bernal (the one who played Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries).

The common theme, as suggested by the title, is lack of communication within society and between different societies, but that wasn't the only detail. The U.S.–Mexico border scenes were full of music and dust; the ones in Morocco were full of dust and solitude; the ones in Japan were full of people that are physically close to each other yet unable to communicate. The common thread seems to be the desert, the desperation of people who don't know how to get out of places they don't wish to be.

There's also a clear message about xenophobia, in the literal etymological sense of fear and rejection of the Different Other, be they paranoid American tourists in an Arab town, Mexican citizens treated like criminals by the U.S. border patrol, or deaf-mute Japanese girls freaking out stupid boys in a disco.

The people in Babel, for different reasons ranging from alienation to distraction to irrational fear, make incredibly stupid mistakes, just because they don't imagine what the other might do, or because they don't see the other. In a world full of communication devices, people fail to communicate and thus solve their problems; people belonging to the same culture or to wildly different ones, face to face or by long-distance phone or through sign language, speaking as friends or relatives or representatives of whole nations, cannot reach each other, for reasons only beginning with language. Babel is not devoid of hope, though; in the middle of this nightmare, flashes of pure understanding and acceptance cast some light on the otherwise gloomy landscape of our fractured world.

Babel is not going to rock your world. Some parts of the stories could be better told; the Japanese section, though very well done in itself, is somehow disconnected from the rest; the acting skills of the cast are a bit overshadowed by the plot itself. But the high points are in the majority. The colours and the music, the whole ambience given to each scenario, is wonderful. And it's not common that a movie spoken in four languages, with subtitles, is appreciated by European critics and also nominated for the Academy Awards. We'll see how it does in a few weeks.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. so you're a film critic as well? nice write up on a movie that i feel very similar about, not great, but interesting enough to fill its celluloid screen time.

    ironically, i got a comment just recently from liew yee min, speaking of world communications and connecting people. i wanted to treat it as spam... but maybe...


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