Babel: One of the Year's Best Films
by Alex Billington
November 10, 2006
There hasn't been a lot of discussion about Babel yet, but this is a film that provides one of the most fulfilling theatrical experiences in a while. Visionary filmmaker Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu explores the world's cultures and communication struggles in a vast story told in a subtle way evoking Lost in Translation but much more powerful and involving. The cast and locations are incredibly immersive and pull together naturally to present an embracing view of our world in its entirety.
Babel contains four different stories spanning three continents. A native family in Morocco is struggling with two troublemaking sons. Separately, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are a married couple visiting Morocco still dealing with the recent death of one of their children and problems in their relationship. Meanwhile, in San Diego, illegal immigrant Amelia (Adriana Barraza) is the caretaker of two young children, Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble), and decides to cross the border with her brother Santiago (Gael GarcÃa Bernal) to attend her son's wedding in Mexico. In Tokyo, Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) is the father of deaf-mute Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi); Chieko's mother committed suicide, further complicating Chieko's own struggles as an adolescent teen.
The viewer is thrown into the story of Babel without knowing who anyone is, but it's this style of introduction that really draws you into and enhances the film. As the title suggests, the film is about how communication and language connect together on a worldwide level. IÃ±Ã¡rritu does a fantastic job demonstrating this with situations from the four stories that intertwine as the film progresses. The deaf-mute Chieko uses writing and sign language in lieu of the spoken word. During a tense near-death situation in Morocco, the participants must communicate although barely anyone speaks the same language. This is a movie where the intriguing stories are crafted perfectly by a master storyteller. It has a very absorbing and intricate feeling similar to that of Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning film Traffic from 2000.
Babel's soundtrack helps drive the story and keeps the flow between each continent. The musical style accompanying each scene is distinctly related to that culture as Traffic used lighting effects to subtly communicate transitions between Soderbergh's various stories. Even more engaging is the way IÃ±Ã¡rritu presents the world's cultures in their respective locations. It's a very involving experience not found in any other films. I strongly urge that most Americans go see Babel to get an understanding for many of the world's cultures and how they differ so much from America.
Many of the actors also deserve commendation for their portrayals. Each of the primary characters has a fascinating story to tell, and at least one of the stories will appeal on a deep emotional level with everyone in an audience. All actors, especially Yakusho and Kikuchi in Tokyo, deliver outstanding performances. Pitt and Blanchett, ostensibly the stars of Babel, are given scarcely more screen time than their lesser-known counterparts in other subplots, but still add greatly to the film.
Babel is one of this year's best films, a very competent creation from Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu. Although it lacks perfection slightly in its screenwriting and story in Mexico, the film offers a unique and immersive experience into the world's cultures. With a fantastic soundtrack and astonishing performances from all actors, Babel is a powerful and striking story spanning three continents. It's a must-see to truly understand the world's cultures and experience them in the way only Alejandro GonzÃ¡lez IÃ±Ã¡rritu can show.