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February 10, 2007

Babel

rinko.jpg

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - 2006
Rose Media and Entertainment 35mm Film

With its seven Academy Award nominations, Babel is now playing in Thailand. Others have looked at this film quite critically. While I do not feel that I need to say much, I did want to add a couple of thoughts.

Especially looking back on some of the writing praIsing Babel, I have to wonder if Richard and Susan's predicament would seem so imoportant to the audience had they not been portrayed by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett? Had the American couple been played by lesser known actors, would there have been perhaps more identification by western audiences with the tourists who wanted to get the bus back to their destination? Even though Pitt and Blanchett have relatively equal screen time with the other actors, I found it impossible to watch them without being conscious that I was watching to major stars trying to be part of an ensemble. Even in a more seamless ensemble piece such as A Prairie Home Companion, Meryl Streep sticks out a bit more than Maya Rudolph or John McGinley. Certainly having Pitt and Blanchett helped in selling Babel but the purported message of the film might have benefitted from have their roles played by lesser marquee names that would have been less distracting.

Speaking of casting, while I liked Rinko Kikuchi (seen above), iI also wonder why a real deaf-mute actress, Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin has been related primarily to guest shots on television. I would have loved to have seen Matlin in the Blanchett role. Maybe more active casting of someone like Matlin would be more effective than making a film about a the prejudice faced by a deaf-mute girl, played by a fully functional actress. Aside from my challenge to Gonzales Innaritu to make use of this underused actress, I am also suggesting that Babel is most interesting when it takes place in Morocco and loses its way in Mexico and Japan in the attempt at being universal.

I also think that had Gonzales Inarritu not made Babel, someone else would have made a film about how people are globally connected. The basic ideas that are found in Babel concerning the connectivity of people have been explored within the genre of the bilingual war film as I had mentioned in relation to None but the Brave. Other films that could be sited would be some of Robert Altman's films, particularly Nashville, as well as Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In his review published in The Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee was reminded of the Philipino film, Heremias, concerning the epic trials and tribulations of a poor peasant. For me, a better film examaning the chains of catastrophe that result from one thoughtless act is Robert Bresson's L'Argent. For anyone to claim that Babel is truly unique either in construction or theme is disingenuous. Even the mostly critically reviled Butterfly Effect explored the unanticipated effects of one person's actions.

In spite of its surface sophistication, Babel made me think of Stanley Kramer at his most strident. I might agree with the message, but it still doesn't make for good filmmaking.

Posted by peter at February 10, 2007 02:01 AM

Comments

I have not seen Babel, but for some reason your review is making me think of the old Burton-Taylor warhorse The VIPs. Their scenes make the movie screech to a halt, because they are just so darned LizandDick.

Speaking solely in terms of structure, Babel sounds a bit like La Ronde, as well.

Posted by: Campaspe at February 13, 2007 12:04 PM

Now that you mention it, Schnitzler did look at how people are unknowingly connected to each other. I also think Joseph Conrad is another literary influence with his multiple viewpoints.

I only saw The VIPs once, on black and white tv, in the mid Sixties. Even then I was stunned to imagine that people actually paid money to see "the jet set" stuck at an airport.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at February 13, 2007 08:03 PM