Friday, January 19, 2007

Babel (15)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Guillermo Arriaga
On general release from 19th January 2007

After the fascinating Amores perros and the beautiful 21 Grams, Mexican director Iñárritu concludes his 'death trilogy' with this disappointingly ponderous effort. As before, we are presented with stories which are somehow connected, but unlike in the earlier two, they might as well not be. Their connectedness tells us nothing.

No doubt taking its title from the story of a jealous and paranoid God dividing and therefore conquering humanity in the book of Genesis, Babel is a joyless, hopeless film, which must surely have the effect of alienating any viewer who has ever experienced the tiniest shred of happiness.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play a wealthy American husband and wife who are visiting Morocco to escape an unspoken tragedy at home. Whilst travelling between town, she is shot by a young Moroccan boy, who is improbably testing his rifle by taking aim at the tourists' bus.

Back in the US, the couple's nanny (Adriana Barraza) wants to get away to her son's wedding in Mexico, but can't find anyone to look after the kids. So she and her reckless nephew (Gael García Bernal) take them across the border for the celebrations. Not very surprisingly, that doesn't work out too well.

Meanwhile, in Japan, a deaf-mute schoolgirl (Rinko Kikuchi) is struggling to cope with her mother's death, her father's coldness and her emerging sexual desire.

Iñarritu showed he knows his way around a camera in his previous films, and there's plenty more evidence of that here. Working closely with Brokeback Mountain cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, he creates a collage of different textures, weaving them together with great expertise. The casting is spot-on, with all the actors (many of whom are amateurs) putting in excellent performances. Brad Pitt in particular is in something like his Fight Club/Meet Joe Black form, and shows he's capable of doing something slightly sophisticated now he's getting on a bit.

Unfortunately, it's the idea behind the film that is fundamentally flawed. The connections between the stories are so contrived, and yet so pointless, that any emotion the characters generate seems fake. "We all know that Art is not truth," claimed Picasso, "Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand." But the clunky plotlines in Babel constantly remind the viewer that that they are watching a lie, making Iñárritu's 'truth' very hard to grasp.

However, the message seems to be that authorities don't realise the suffering they cause, because are they are just too big and powerful. Iñárritu may not know or care, but in the Oaxaca and Chiapas regions of his country, people are uniting to take the power back from their oppressors. In Babel, the director is symbolically using the megaphone of Hollywood budgets in a pathetic appeal for leaders to show compassion and understanding. But elites know precisely what they are doing, because that is how they became elites in the first place. Sadly, it seems that fame and fortune have turned Iñárritu's head.
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