Review of González Iñárritu’s Babel

Babel would be a much better film if it did not have any familiar faces in the cast. The strongest performances are from Rinko Kikuchi as the deaf-mute Japanese girl Chieko and Adriana Barraza as the Mexican nanny Amelia. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and even Koji Yakusho seem out of place, their performances coming across as perfunctory and labored. Even the two child actors playing the children of the American couple convey a desperation and intensity, as well as a sense of wonder and joy, missing in the two major stars. As for the device of linking up three distant parts of the globe through a single act of firing a rifle, I think that González Iñárritu succeeds in pulling it off. The film’s greatest strength lies in the fluidity with which it moves from scenes of brutality and agony, such as when the Berber hunter is interrogated and beaten by the Moroccan police, to those of meditative sorrow, when the detective Mamiya nurses a drink after reading the note Chieko has passed to him. Babel evokes both sympathy and frustration, and hope and dread, in the viewer, often at the same time. It is easy to get annoyed with the recklessness of the Moroccan boy Yussef, but it is very his preciosity and talent as a marksman that makes one’s heart sink. Likewise, one wishes the lonely and morose Chieko, who has recently lost her mother, happiness and fulfillment, while squirming with uneasiness when she finally hits it off with a group of boys, who also happen to give her whisky and pills. The scene in which the distraught Amelia is apprehended by a US border patrolman is one that sears the memory. The fear and anguish she exhibits in trying with all her might to convince an officer focused on protocol that her charges are waiting in the desert are overpowering. The film is a far cry from the structurally similar Magnolia, where the dominant emotions are self-pity and self-indulgence. Although the form can lend itself to cliché, the nuances in González Iñárritu’s work make Babel a work that will endure.

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