Location: Los Angeles, California

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Jean-Luc Godard famously said that the best way to criticize a movie is to make another movie. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel takes every element of Paul Haggis' Crash and accomplishes it with more insight, dignity, and grace.

I particularly like what my friend/fellow critic Steve Snart said regarding the two films: "The characters in Babel are living and breathing entities whose actions are driven by psychological motivations. They are not just walking stereotypes used to grease plot mechanics like last year’s major multi-character opera, Crash."

But enough Crash-bashing, which, mind you, was still a good film. Babel, on the other hand, is a dizzying masterstroke. It's filled with numerous little moments that hit you in the gut - not because the beat is emotionally wrenching, but because it captures a specific sensation of life that is rarely portrayed on the screen with such clarity. Moments like enjoying the force of the wind against your body, or reliving one's vanishing childhood on an abandoned playground set.

And despite all these precious microscopic moments of beauty, Babel is definitely a big-picture movie - a film that encompasses four countries, six languages (plus sign language), and a plethora of characters. Unlike Crash, it doesn't wear its thesis on its sleeve. Part of the reason is that Babel is about more than one thing. On the surface, it's about misdirected terrorism charges, immigration politics, teenage sexual angst, etc. But underneath, it also investigates the barriers between people - national, class, language, ideological, sex - and how one hasty decision (or is it fate?) can catapult the status quo into chaos.

The performances here are exemplary all around; but, as everyone else has been saying, the finest acting comes from Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. These misguided women will break your heart. Barraza takes what could have been a stereotyped role of the Mexican nanny, and she breathes an astonishing amount of soul into it in a short period of time. Kikuchi, playing a deaf-mute Japanese teen, bears all (figuratively and literally) as her character descends into an abyss of sexual desperation.

And to round off this review quickly, Babel is visually and aurally stunning. Inarritu cunningly plays with the sound (often to establish Kukuchi's point-of-view), and the multi-narrative editing blends these four stories together in a remarkably coherent fashion.

My only complaint is that one does have to overcome the fact that these characters do make some incredibly poor choices. One of these poor choices occurs at the Mexico-U.S. border. Yet, when this scene happened, I wasn't thinking, "Oh no, that's contrived." I was thinking, "Stupid Gael Garcia Bernal... what are you doing?" Babel had sucked me in, and it's still floating around in my head.

Rating: **** (out of ****)


Post a Comment

<< Home