In the remote sands of the Moroccan desert, a rifle shot rings out - detonating a chain of events that will link an American tourist couple's (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett) frantic struggle to survive, two Moroccan boys (Said Tarchani, Boubker Ait El Caid) involved in an accidental crime, a nanny (Adriana Barraza) illegally crossing into Mexico with two American children (Elle Fanning, Nathan Gamble) driven by her unreliable nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a Japanese teen rebel (Rinko Kikuchi) whose father (Koji Yakusho) is sought by the police in Tokyo.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Warmly received at its premiere screening at Cannes (projection glitch at the 90 minute mark notwithstanding), Babel is a layered and complex film that is accessible and painfully well observed about the human condition. The writer and director are cinematic collaborators with good pedigree (Amores Perros and my less favoured 21 Grams) who have forged a dramatic and beautifully made film from gaunt material.
Babel's biblical allegory seems at first rather grandiose, but it turns out to be not so much a manipulation of the old story but a confirmation of its timeless relevance. Man's impudence at building a tower to heaven - requiring much co-operation - has a positive side which the biblical story glosses over. It is in the likewise admirable pursuits of men that flaws and misconnections, bad judgments and simple bad luck pile on top of each other to build a tower of rubble that collapses despite the good intentions.
Cate Blanchett's character has to suffer both emotional and physical pain as she becomes an accidental victim of childish bravura, and she excels with a minimalistic performance that is nonetheless moving. Brad Pitt develops a tense gravitas for his role as her husband amidst the crisis, and Adriana Barraza is outstanding as the Mexican nanny, Amelia, who is left to look after the children. Both youngsters deliver sensational, naturalistic performances that are heartwrenching, and all the Moroccan actors (and some non-professionals, too) create wonderfully real characters.
The film's tapestry of incident, accident and connectedness across the globe from Los Angeles to Tokyo and the Moroccan desert, is in fact based on a simple trajectory that is easy to comprehend and yet amazing to consider.
Babel is a work of lasting value that satisfies cinema lovers and fuels our engagement with film.
Review by Louise Keller:
Actions, reactions and consequences are the themes of Babel, an intense and gripping drama that explores the closely connected chain of humanity that links us inextricably to each other. Alejandro Inarritu's superb film takes us deep into three totally different worlds. Although the characters do not know each other, the reverberation of one single event connects them. But watch carefully. It is not until the film's end that we realise which is in fact the event that triggers it all.
Bored youngsters show off on an isolated hilltop of the vast Moroccan desert. What begins as an exercise in one upmanship impacts not only on the boys and their families, but on the visiting tourist couple caught up in their own personal grief. The single rifle shot that echoes through the landscape is seemingly ineffectual. But when the white tourist bus leaves the winding road and stops, there has clearly been an impact.
Inarritu plays with timeframes as though they are curves in the road. As we grasp the context and relevance of events, we feel as vulnerable as the characters. Curiosity and intrigue turn to horror as the consequences become apparent. With consummate skill, Inarritu effectively conveys isolation in a crowd, fear of the unknown and desperation when there are no options in the story's three different prongs. At the film's heart is the plight of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt as a married couple who become innocent victims while reeling in their inner torment of loneliness. Despite their relatively short screen time, both convey much with great subtlety.
Remote Morocco, vibrant Mexico, structured Japan - the locations are as diverse as the characters. Everyone is an outcast - emotionally and physically. Use of local non- professional actors in remote areas add a rich layer, as do the individual cinematic techniques differentiating the look, feel and music of each of the film's sections.
There is an innocence about all the characters; everyone is searching for something. A better world, intimacy, acceptance. Tension mounts as the world spins out of control. Partly due to the geographical distances the plight of everyone compresses like a pressure cooker ready to explode. The title too, taken from the biblical myth, reinforces the notion of cutting through barriers, and our abilities to communicate on all levels. Involving from the very beginning, Babel wrenches us emotionally through subtexts and layers depicting that invisible line that links us all.
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CAST: Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Adriana Barraza, Koji Yakusho, Peter Wright, Harriet Walter, Trevor Martin, Matyelok Gibbs, Claudine Acs, Andre Oumansky, Michael Maloney, Dermot Crowley
PRODUCER: Steve Golin, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, John Kilik
DIRECTOR: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
SCRIPT: Guillermo Arriaga
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
MUSIC: Gustavo Santaolalla
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Brigitte Broch
RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2006