Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga from a story by Inarittu and Arriaga, Babel is a hyperlink story set in three different parts of the world as a couple trying to save their marriage in Morocco while their children are being taken to Mexico by their maid so she can attend her son’s wedding as a third story revolves around a young deaf woman in Japan. An exploration into cultural differences, isolation, and death in what is the third part of Inarritu’s trilogy of death, the film is a multi-layered tale with different strands of narrative as these characters are all connected by circumstances in their environment. Starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Emilio Echevarria, Clifton Collins Jr., Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble, and Rinko Kikuchi. Babel is a tremendously harrowing yet evocative film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Set in three different places in the part of the world as it relates to the concept of the Tower of Babel where everyone started to speak in different languages where no one could understand each other. The film is about a trio of different stories set in three different places around the world. All of which are connected in a crisscross narrative style as an American couple are in Morocco trying to save their marriage where a major event shakes the couple that involved a couple of young boys are trying to kill jackals where they unknowingly cause something. In Mexico, the American couple’s children are back in San Diego as their maid is eager to go to her son’s wedding only to not find anyone prompting her to take the children to Mexico with her nephew as the trip back would be a treacherous one. The third and final story explored a young deaf woman in Japan who is dealing with the loss of her mother as well as growing awareness of her sexuality.

The film’s screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga definitely takes the concept of the Tower of Babel where it explores the idea of misunderstanding and miscommunication in a post 9/11 world where everyone is almost walking on eggshells. The story about the American couple in Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, respectively) showcase a couple still dealing with the death of their infant son as they’re on a trip to Morocco with tourists as another story emerges about a couple of young boys in Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Chaid) who had just gotten a rifle that their father got for a trade where things went wrong. The story would get dramatic as the collision of this story in Morocco would have involve diplomacy issues where the boys get into trouble. It’s a story that plays into a sense of grief but also in a world where tension between Americans and North Africa is very fragile all because of a simple accident.

The second story set in Mexico that concerns the Jones children and their maid Amelia (Adriana Barazzo) as the script would have the children receive a call from their father just as he is dealing with something that is happening in Morocco as two versions of this conversation are presented but in different moments in the narrative. Amelia’s decision to take Debbie (Elle Fanning) and Mike (Nathan Gamble) to Mexico is a foolish one but it’s much more complicated as it involves her nephew Santiago who would get into trouble on their way back from Mexico. It is in that moment where it plays into the sense of mistrust and misunderstanding as Amelia isn’t a legal resident which adds to the stakes of the drama. The third story in Japan doesn’t seem like it would connect anything with the other two though both stories do appear in the background but it does play into the themes that Arriaga is exploring. It involves Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) as she is troubled by her mother’s passing as well as the lack of attention she gets from her father which has her wanting to explore sexually. Even as two detectives come in asking for her father which plays into the events of the two stories.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s direction is definitely intense in terms of not just the situations that occur but also in the drastic stakes that play into much of the film’s drama. The usage of non-linear and crisscross narrative definitely gives a certain edge to Inarritu’s approach to the filmmaking as he aims for a varied degree of different cinematic styles for each location. Some of which involve hand-held cameras for scenes set in Morocco and Mexico while going for something more straightforward in scenes set in Japan. Yet, Inarritu manages to make each story have a different feel in its varied filmmaking style as he would maintain intimate moments between various characters through some close-ups and medium shots. Even as it plays to some of the realism and dramatic stakes of the film.

The direction also play into the ideas of young people coming-of-age sexually such as Yussef who is curious about a girl who lives in one of his homes as well as Chieko who would reveal her exposed crotch to schoolboys as she isn’t wearing underwear. It plays into a sense of growth for these two people who emerge into adulthood yet face real problems that prove to be just as challenging since they’re still children in some respects. Especially as the dramatic stakes become more intense such as Amelia trying to get Debbie and Mike back to the U.S. through the desert as well as Richard and Susan coping with their own encounter with death as things get intense as well as gripping from a visual sense. Particularly in the third act where all of these different stories do come together to see how all of these people are connected in ways that are unexpected. Overall, Inarritu creates a very somber yet exhilarating film about human disconnection and miscommunication in a world that is often very complicated.

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does brilliant work with the film‘s very stylized cinematography with its usage of dark shades to surround some of the images as well as its approach to grainy stock footage as there‘s a mixture of beauty and ugliness in the camera work as it‘s one of the film‘s highlights. Editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrone do amazing work with the editing to create some unique transitions to move from one story to another with elements of jump-cuts and other offbeat rhythmic cuts to play into the action and drama. Production designer Brigitte Broch does excellent work with the set pieces from the houses in San Diego and Mexico to the posh apartment that Chieko lives with her father in Tokyo.

Costume designers Gabriela Diaque, Miwako Kobayashi, and Michael Wilkinson do terrific work with the costumes from the red dress that Amelia wears to the wedding as well as the schoolgirl uniform and stylish clothes that Chieko would wear. Sound designer Martin Hernandez does fantastic work with the sound to convey the layers of sounds in the film‘s different locations including a club scene in Tokyo in how sound is heard and not heard plus some textures that really play into the drama of the film. The film’s music by Gustavo Santaolalla is incredible for its very haunting music that is a mixture of chilling ambient pieces with some stark and plaintive folk-based cuts to play into the drama while music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein brings in a diverse soundtrack filled with traditional Mexican/hip-hop music, J-pop, and Middle Eastern music.

The casting by Gigi Akoka and Francine Maisler is great for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Clifton Collins Jr. and Michael Pena as a couple of border patrol officers that Amelia would encounter in different scenes, Abdelkader Bara as a man who owned the rifle as he traded it to Abdullah, Mustapha Rachidi as Yussef and Ahmed’s father Abdullah, Peter Wight as a British tourist, Damian Garcia as Amelia’s son Lucio, Cynthia Montano as Lucio’s bride Patricia, Koji Yakusho as Chieko’s father, Yuko Murata as Chieko’s fellow deaf friend, Shigemitsu Ogi as a dentist Chieko tries to seduce, Nobushige Suematsu as a classmate of Chieko, Kazunori Tozawa as a detective who arrives at Chieko’s apartment, and Satoshi Nikaido as the younger detective whom Chieko tries to connect with. Other noteworthy small roles include Emilio Echevarria in a terrific role as an old flame of Amelia as well as Mohammed Akhzam as the Moroccan tour guide Anwar whom Richard would befriend.

Elle Fanning and Nathan Gamble are excellent in their respective roles ad Debbie and Mike as two kids who find themselves in danger as it relates to a decision Amelia made. Gael Garcia Bernal is fantastic as Amelia’s nephew Santiago who would drive Amelia and the kids to Mexico and back only an act of poor judgment would cause some trouble. Said Tarchani and Boubker Ait El Chaid are superb in their respective roles as Ahmed and Yussef as two boys whose game of target practice would have serious consequences as they try to figure out what to do. Adriana Barazza is brilliant as Amelia as a Mexican maid/nanny for Debbie and Mike who is trying to watch the children as she reluctantly takes them to Mexico so she can attend her son’s wedding as she endures horrific circumstances when she tries to get the children back home.

Rinko Kikuchi is amazing as Chieko as a young deaf woman still grieving over the loss of her mother as she tries to act out sexually and emotionally in the hope to connect with someone. Finally, there’s Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in remarkable performances in their respective roles as Susan and Richard Jones where Blanchett brings a reserved approach to her performance as a woman grieving over loss and the state of her marriage while Pitt plays a man trying to find ways to save his marriage while dealing with cultural differences due to the situation he is facing.

Babel is a phenomenal film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Armed with an incredible cast as well as a intricate and captivating screenplay by Guillermo Arriaga. The film is definitely a very powerful film that showcases the world as a whole and how many in different parts of the world deal with similar situations into isolation, death, and miscommunication. In the end, Babel is a tremendously visceral and thrilling film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Films: Amores Perros - The Hire-Powder Keg - 11'9'01-September 11-Mexico - 21 Grams - To Each His Own Cinema-Anna - Biutiful - Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - The Revenant - The Auteurs #45: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

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1 comment:

Wendell Ottley said...

Babel is an amazing movie. I remember being mesmerized. Great review.