Our Town downtown
November 6, 2006
Playing at: Regal Union Square Stadium 14
Run Time: 142 min.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
It’s hard not to feel, even by the middle of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest maze of intersecting tales, a little bit underfed. And that may be the point, or at least part of it. On the other hand, there may be no point at all, regardless of Iñárritu’s intent. And how this sits with audiences is a matter of personal taste.
The action takes place in seemingly unrelated locales: Mexico, Japan, Morocco and briefly, California. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett play an American couple traveling through the North African desert with a tour group. The tension regarding which one of them might be responsible for the death of one of their children becomes all but irrelevant when a bullet is fired into their bus and Susan (Cate Blanchett) is critically injured, hours away from what, to them, is civilization. This event is the center of gravity, the axis on which all the other stories, on all the other continents, are spun.
As its title implies, the film uses the many different languages, spoken, gesticulated and insinuated that its characters speak, to create or identify the obstacles and barriers between them.
It would seem there are two ways to watch this movie. You could expect literature and be disappointed. Or you could expect something else and be either satisfied or pleasantly surprised, even. “Babel” floats somewhere in between literature and entertainment.
It’s likely that Iñárritu, being an Auteur, views the latest installment in his “trilogy” (“Amores Perros”; “21 Grams” being “Babel’s” predecessors) as some big existential/geopolitical statement. If this is true, but the audience is wise enough to ignore that likely sentiment and take the movie strictly on its own merits, they will enjoy it plenty.
The earlier movies in the trilogy (I should note that I didn’t see “Amores Perros”) share “Babel’s” intertwined story structure but little else with it or each other, at least on a literal level.
The way these stories start out, physically and culturally so far apart, and then coalesce, takes the technical mastery of a virtuoso to design. But it’s as if when Iñárritu is devising a concept for a movie, rather than thinking carefully about which individual stories and characters would strike that certain chord of emotion, or illustrate that something in the world that is really eating at him at a given moment in time – he just steps up to the narrative slot machine, or super computer or character-generating wheel of fortune, throws caution to the wind, and sees what the gods of dialogue, setting, plot, conflict and all the other elements have in store for him.
If the people in this fairly bleak movie have anything in common it’s a deep fear of abandonment and rejection, and the consolation in the connections they are actually able to make with one another.
The big indicator that the tangle of strangely intriguing stories in “Babel” – the undocumented housekeeper who, in an emergency, takes the American kids in her charge on a border run; the wide-eyed, deaf high school girl in Tokyo, desperate for attention from the opposite sex, who thinks the police suspect her father of killing her mother; and the central story of the American couple in Morocco, and the stories within those stories – is not going to grab hold of most people for much longer than the two and a half hours they spend watching it, is the ease with which this movie can be compared with other, older works, many of which employ the same interconnecting story technique: “City of God”; “Talk to Her”; “Syriana”; “Traffic”; “The Sheltering Sky” and that over-referenced movie from 1994 that has the initials P & F and set the current trend in motion, are just some of them.
Like authors Haruki Murakami and Paul Auster, Iñárritu is obviously fascinated by the incredible coincidences that take place everyday in peoples’ lives, the relationship between individual actions and the chains of events they cause, and the more metaphysical question of whether chance is a real thing – whether these odd happenings are coincidences or something more. And if that’s all there is to it, well that’s just fine.
-- Matt Elzweig