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Old 18th Jun 2007, 10:41   #1
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Default Babel

Babel is one of those films that considers itself worthy, I'm sure. It glows with 'Oscar-nominee' pixie-dust, with a drawn-out examination of how lives are interlinked in the global village, and how the human failing to communicate can lead to all kinds of tragedy.

Four plotlines weave in and out for a long 130+ minutes: a young Japanese deaf-mute, Chieko, alienated from her father and increasingly from life; the Moroccan goat-herding brothers who muck about with their father's gun and inadvertently shoot an American tourist in a tour bus; the tourist and her husband who are taking a tour of Morocco to recover a bruised relationship after the death of their youngest child from SIDS. The shooting and subsequent hospitalisation prevent their Mexican child-minder from attending her own son's wedding in Mexico; she attends anyway, taking the children with her, but disaster strikes en route back into the USA.

The trigger of the action is the gun, passed on as a gift to a Moroccan hunter by the Japanese girl's father whilst on holiday, and sold on to the goat-herder's family. The pivot of the action is the shooting; but it is important to state that the stories are not meant to interlock perfectly. In Japan, Chieko's day of increasing isolation and desperation (which has her flashing her wares at boys in a club, taking drugs, coming on to her dentist, and offering herself, naked, to a police officer) has no connection to the other stories - these lives don't touch just because of her father's gun being used in Morocco. These are just the people of the world, scattered and unaware of each other's lives.

Of course the film utilises every case of misunderstanding and miscommunication it can get its hands on: many sections are subtitled, for Morocco and for sign-language; the Mexican child-minder, Amelia, occasionally speaks in Spanish to her charges whether they understand her or not. The American parents have not been communicating because of their infant son's death; and deaf-mute Chieko is suicidal from lack of communication and traumatised over her mother's own suicide some years earlier (maybe due to a similar lack of communication). The American father forces Amelia's tragedy upon her, partly in his insistence that she must forego her son's wedding to take care of his children.

Where language can sometimes be a barrier, it also turns the other way. The American father finds the other tourists, despite speaking the same language as him, are the first ones eager to abandon him and his injured wife in the remote Moroccan village; it is a Moroccan man who assists them (and refuses payment at the end, since in this case, money doesn't talk either), together with a local veterinarian, and an old woman. I was very moved by the scene where the injured American, Susan, is left for some moments alone with the old woman whilst her husband tries to phone for help. She thinks she is dying and yet she cannot communicate what she might want to say in these moments to a woman who cannot understand them; likewise, the woman might be saying comforting things - that might be the last things Susan ever hears - and yet she cannot understand them. In the scenes after this, Susan and her husband find some personal reconciliation and begin to communicate again.

The continuing threat of Chieko's lonely desperation runs to the end of film, and is most moving. It's not a perfect film - it is tremendously slow-moving, and the time-frame shifts about rather - and perhaps it wears its message rather heavily. I wonder whether it was intentional that the all-American family is the one that survives the film with anything like satisfaction: all is roughly well with them. Is this a criticism by the director of how things are these days, or is he just offering up the facts?

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Last edited by Colyngbourne; 18th Jun 2007 at 13:32. Reason: Clarification of stuff
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Old 18th Jun 2007, 13:26   #2
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Default Re: Babel

Originally Posted by Colyngbourne View Post
...perhaps it wears its message rather heavily. I wonder whether it was intentional that the all-American family is the one who survives the film with anything like satisfaction: all is roughly well with them. Is this a criticism, or just offering up the facts?
Beautiful review of this, Col. I considered renting the film a while back but hadn't read a review. I think your point about the American family surviving and the heavy frontage of the message is probably quite valid. This will sound horribly elitist, but I think most Americans lack the cultural reference or even the biblical reference points that educated Europeans share. So popular film makers spoonfeed us a bit. It's like my best friend's husband who works for Sony in the UK telling of the simplified game versions that are shipped to the states. Just facts.
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Old 22nd Jun 2007, 13:21   #3
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Default Re: Babel

I liked the movie quite a bit, for much the same reasons as Col; plus, it's less preachy than Crash. But one thing that irked me about Babel was the way the plot hinges at several key points on people acting like idiots for no good reason; shooting at buses without even thinking that they can kill people, running from armed border guards with kids in the back seat, refusing to send ambulance helicopters, etc... not that either one of those actions is unrealistic in itself, and I love the whole idea of non-perfect characters, but... the movie would have been 10 minutes long if the characters had just consistently acted like the presumably reasonably intelligent human beings they seem to be otherwise. There wouldn't have been a story.

I thought Syriana, though of course a different kind of film, used a lot of the same ideas much better. And it's nowhere near the great 21 Grams.

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Old 22nd Jun 2007, 15:51   #4
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Default Re: Babel

I was a bit neutral on 21 Grams, in fact I can hardly remember it at all. Syriana I really didn't like. Doesn't bode well for me an Babel (although I heard the Japanese girl/storyline was very good).
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Old 22nd Jun 2007, 16:19   #5
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Good review Col. I really liked Babel, and yes, the Japanese storyline was quite interesting.

Regarding Beer Good's comments about irrational behaviour: that didn't occur to me. I guess I just expect people to act irrationally in crises. Isn't that why the world is in the state it is today?
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