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  • Babel
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 27, 2009
Several stories set in places around the world are related only by a freak accident with a rifle: An American couple (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchette) are on a tour bus in the Moroccan desert when the wife is shot by a some poor children who are trying out their new rifle. Back home in San Diego, the couple's housekeeper takes their children across the border into Mexico with near-tragic results, while the rifle is traced to a businessman in Japan.

The separate-but-ultimately-related-stories technique is similar to that used in the movies Crash and Traffic and used just as effectively. Each story is grim and edge-of-your-seat intense; I don't think I took a deep breath during the whole movie. All of the actors are excellent as is the location photography. We see some good, bad, and a lot of ugly in various cultures as families deal with unexpected events.

The title relates to the Tower of Babel, where God confounded the people's language so they couldn't understand each other. Certainly, each story has frustrating moments of poor communication that become matters of life and death. Though the movie is long, the tension never lets up and I was really caught up in the drama. Highly recommended.
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99 of 112 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2007
I have to start by saying how desperately hard I found this film to review. It's so complex, has so much to say, and works on so many levels. At the same time, it's not an easy film. It's apparent reading the reviews how much trouble people have had with this film - for any number of reasons. Perhaps they felt it a bit long, and didn't care about what was being said. Perhaps they couldn't relate to the actions and choices the characters made, and didn't sympathize or empathize with them. Or perhaps the film's unusual structure left them a bit cold and disconnected. Whatever the reason, the 3.5 star current rating reflects the majority's inability to really "connect" with this film.

For those who don't know, Babel tells 4 different revolving stories across 4 countries (USA, Mexico, Morocco, Japan), and how the actions of one effected all of the others. On another level, the Biblical story of Babel was a story of how man tried to build a tower to God. In doing so they were struck down and punished by speaking different languages - rendering their ability to communicate null. Babel takes this idea of man's inability to communicate and creates a film that expresses this idea on a multitude of levels. Whether it's through race and discrimination, cultural differences, handicaps, or through personal anger and estrangement.

I also find it very interesting that the over-arching idea of communication is told in a backwards but interlocking fashion through the 4 storylines. Starting from the last to enter to the first what we see is: Man's desperate, primal need to communicate with others. This basic idea is rendered in a heartfelt, poignant manner through Rinko Kikuchi's performance of a deaf teenager, and reiterated in many scenes. The separation and isolation from others is driven home through the dance club sequence, and Rinko's sobering exit. The next stage is man forming bonds with others. This is told through the relationship of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. This single stage of communication is on the intimate, personal level with another person.

Moving from this we get to a larger stage, in man creating societal groups, and forming barriers to separate from other society groups. This point is driven home by the Mexico/America border scene. This creation of barriers and walls is one that's inevitable as large groups start to form. And it's through this that discrimination is born. The final stage is how man causes harm to others because of these barriers. It's ironic, or perhaps appropriate that this violence is expressed through the actions of children. What better way to show how discrimination caused by separation caused by lack of communication can effect not only ourselves but future generations?

It has been noted many times that the cinematic merits of this film are impeccable, and nearly impossible to dispute. Editing, cinematography, score, sound, etc. are all handled with a true level of directorial mastery. The acting is equally superb. The two "big names" of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett turn in terrific and (surprisingly) understated performances. They're not given alot to work with, but they bring a level of depth to roles that could've been extremely hollow. But Rinko Kikuchi, as the Japanese teenager deserves extreme praise for her handling of a particularly difficult role. The demands on her in this film are higher than any one else. Throughout all of her scenes she runs the gamut of emotions, and she handles them with a level of genuine emotion and a delicate touch. Even in a film with great all-around performances, she steals the show. Adriana Barraza as the Mexican nanny is almost equally as good as Rinko. Finally, Mustapha Rachidi as the Moroccan farmer is only of lesser note in light of the other extraordinary performances, but is excellent as well.

I find the two storylines of the Moroccan farmer and his family, and the Mexican nanny are the two most difficult. I say this because of the 4 storylines, these were the only two that ended up in the situations they did because of bad decisions. But is it so simple? In the case of the Moroccan farmer and his children, they end up in the situation because of the children being forced to grow up so fast. This is expressed in multiply ways throughout the storyline. Is the reason they end up where they do due to stupidity or just immaturity? In the case of the Mexican nanny, she makes one seemingly harmless decision to take the children she's watching to a marriage in Mexico. But on the way back a series of horrendous events leaves her and the children struggling for their lives in the desert. The scene where things break down at the border is one of the films key moments regarding communication.

It could be the cultural divide. It could be the odd, interlocking narrative. Whatever it may be, Babel is just not going to be a film that's a huge hit here in the USA. It's interesting that this film is about man's inability to communicate, and Americans are particularly bad in that we're too wrapped up in our own culture. If we don't understand it, we don't like it. It really says something that this film has been a huge hit throughout the world, but grossed relatively little here. Films like Crash, Syriana, and the like have garnered much more attention, yet Babel has out-grossed them both world-wide, but not here. Overall I think it will be left up to the individual in terms of how much they get out of this film. If you're willing to look deeper and try to understand each individual story within its context and what's being said, this is a film that will likely really hit home with you. Its resounding statement is how we should really stop and take the time to listen to one another and then go the extra mile to not just listen, but really understand one another.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 27, 2007
"Babel" wasn't easy to watch. The objective wasn't to entertain. Early on, one member of my family left the room because the reality was so intense. I was fascinated because the patina and shine surrounding most commercially ambitious films was missing from "Babel." I am drawn to the reality of movies like this, in the same sort of way I begin watching TV by starting at the top of the cable channels and working my way down to the networks. These days the networks feel overly contrived and fake, which is why they are usually my last choice.

"Babel" was about alot of things, and it was certainly thought provoking on many levels. Of all the themes worthy of discussion, I'm left thinking about the fragility of my modern, sheltered, western existance. The main characters in this movie are all just a random moment and a little bad luck and/or bad judgement away from total disaster.

I agree with most of the previous reviewers who found beauty in the directing, acting, camera work, and audio. Even the extras, such as the tourists on the bus whose growing fear is palpable, added to many dramatic moments. Most important, I think the movie was able to put us as nearly as possible (while sitting on my couch in the safety of my home) into the experiences of the main characters. Particularly memorable were the scenes with the brilliant young actress playing the deaf/mute. The sound came and went, the camera shook back and forth in dramatic anxiety, and the visual stimulation was overwhelming, as if we were experiencing what the young woman was experiencing. I understood the dreadful lonliness she was feeling while surrounded by hundreds of people in the club and on the streets of Tokyo.

Now, several days after seeing "Babel," I continue to contemplate the roles played by the various human beings who come in contact with the main characters in each of the three primary sub-plots. These entirely random intersections have a huge impact on what unfolds. First the unwitting antagonists: the stupid boys with the gun, the ugly men on the bus, the moron at the border station, the drunken nephew, the dentist, and the insensitive, distant father. These people cause the main characters to loose their footing and fall into peril.

Next, the miraculous strangers, who, when all appears to be lost, kindly (heroically?) step between the main characters and death. The two best examples were the Moroccan bus driver who invites the critically injured woman and her husband into his house while finding a doctor and a phone, and the police lieutenant, who somehow finds a way to be tender and understanding, probably preventing another suicide.

Finally, I'm left thinking about what desperation will do to people and how we respond. The babysitter went to great lengths after a series of bad decisions, to endure the desert to protect the kids. Moments after their petty despute where the couple ably demonstrates their indifference for each other, the husband does everything he can to save his wife. She cries - not when the pain gets too intense, but when he tells her he loves her. And finally the young woman who exposes and denudes herself, in a desperate attempt for a response of any kind from a world in which she finds herself completely alone.

I appreciate movies like this where the objective is to create art and tell a story as honestly as possible, where doing so the best way you know how, will inevitably preclude commercial success.
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150 of 185 people found the following review helpful
"Babel" is the latest narratively and chronologically twisted epic from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. This is getting to be a specialty of his. He weaves different plots and characters together in unlikely ways hoping to surprise and enhance the dramatic affect of his storytelling. It brought him wide acclaim for his breakthrough "Amores Perros" a funny and thrilling ride for man and dog! The device was a bit more unnecessary in "21 Grams"--but that smaller film ended up being my choice for the best acted film of its year. But now he takes his skill and technical prowess to his biggest canvas yet.

"Babel" is set in Morocco, Mexico, Japan and the United States. We follow the interlocking stories of a Moroccan farming family, a couple of American tourists, a disaffected and deaf/mute Japanese schoolgirl, and a Mexican maid and her two American charges. One bullet brings all the stories together. As one of the tourists, Cate Blanchett, is accidentally shot--the repercussions are felt around the world.

This is an ambitious picture, and I do believe the narrative framing and structure enhance the overall experience. From a technical standpoint, there is not much more you could ask for--this is an awesome achievement. From editing, score, screenplay, cinematography and art direction--"Babel" is propelled to the short list of great studio films this year. The acting is uniformly excellent. Brad Pitt as Blanchett's husband and Rinku Kikuchi as the Japanese girl have been singled out repeatedly (and are likely Oscar contenders), but everyone here is in top form. This is heavy drama, and I can understand why that scares some people away--but the payoff is worth it. It is harrowing and unpleasant at times, but riveting and emotional throughout.

"Babel" is clearly a film made with serious intentions--and I'm not entirely sure it's as successful as it hopes to be. The philosophical implications, the biblical allegory, the effort to document the state of the world, the examination of a disaffected society, the randomness of the universal ties that bind, and the commentary at the lack of communication and understanding in the world--it's all here! There are certainly individual moments within "Babel" that will strike a chord, and it's definitely an intelligently made film, I just don't necessarily think that it is as "significant" as some make it out to be. I admire that it tries to deliver a social commentary without being "preachy"--but it moves perilously close at several times (times where 2 seconds of rational thought and explanation could have resolved something--but people were more villainous than understanding). Ultimately, though, I must embrace "Babel" as great adult filmmaking and powerful drama. About 4 1/2 stars from me--I'm rounding up for the sheer scope and ambition present. KGHarris, 12/06.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2007

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has completed his trilogy of human sadness and isolation with his final installment of Babel. His previous films in the trilogy are 21 Grams and Amores Perros. His latest is an intense, depressing, and brilliant look into the way which we as humans perform miscommunication.

Babel is derived from the biblical story when man tried to reach heaven via a tower. Upset with the idea, God stopped the construction by creating different languages. Communication had become impossible.

The film is blessed with exceptional acting all around from actors and actresses of whom you probably have never heard. Okay, everyone is familiar with Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt but the rest of the cast is mostly of no names, at least to people here in America.

Babel easily could have been a lazy effort made by Director Inarritu. How so? A film with a running length of 142 minutes centered upon a simple idea of miscommunication doesn't sound very challenging, right? Wrong. This is where Inarritu has gone above and beyond. It would have been all too easy for his characters to not communicate simply because of language. Although the film does contain this aspect, the focus is primarily on the miscommunication of humans with the same language.

Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are on vacation in Morocco when a random bullet strikes Susan creating a chain of events for the viewer. Yes, Richard has trouble communicating to the locals about getting help, but look closer. A scene before this shows the couple unhappy with each other because of their child's death. Their miscommunication with each other has created a break in their relationship.

The random bullet is revealed to have been shot from two children who have a brother sibling rivalry with each other. The father's treatment of the younger brother causes the older brother to feel inadequate. Adding to the mix, the younger brother is confused and curious about his sexuality as he watches his sister undress (which she fully knows and fully enjoys the attention). This indeed is a family that lacks in the area of communication of their problems.

Richard and Susan's kids are taken care of by mexican nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza). Amelia is thrown into a probable predicament. Amelia has her brother's wedding to attend in Mexico but Richard (because of his inability to listen) has insisted that she has no choice but to take care of his kids on her day off. So what does she do? Irresponsibly, she takes the kids with her to Mexico for the wedding and plans on bringing them back across the border into the States. It's funny how going into Mexico sure is easier than coming back. On the way back, she experiences the vigorous and ruthless laws of immigrating back into the U.S. It's too bad the border patrol and Amelia refuse to listen to each other. A tragedy of ghastly proportions ensues.

Meanwhile in Japan, Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) is linked to the gun that has fired off the bullets. He and his deaf daughter Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) are having father-daughter problems. The suicide of Chieko's mother has caused a lack of emotions and communication between the father and daughter. Both feel distant as a family, but Chieko's isolation continues into her social life. Men don't want to have anything to do with Chieko because she is deaf. This yearning of acceptance causes Chieko to communicate in the only way she knows possible, her body. The show stopper occurs in a scene where Chieko stands fully nude in front of a detective. Chieko has been stripped of her dignity appearing completely desperate and vulnerable. Simply put, Rinko Kikuchi's character Chieko is the most fascinating and best part of the film.

As you can see, this is not a film merely about characters not understanding each other via language barriers. There is much more substance going on. Many of the film's lack of communication takes place within people who speak the same language but are not listening to each other and therefore not communicating.

The film may feel slow to some and yet engaging to others. The whole "every character is connected" idea seems overplayed and not as shocking as it once was. This is largely due to previous films, such as Crash, exercising this same idea in the past (I still think P.T. Anderson's Magnolia is the best film that shows an interweaving complex story of characters that all connect.)

But still, Inarritu has made a film showing that even though our cultures have led us to have different definitions of happiness with one another, we are all still connected as human beings because of the similarities of tragedy, death, and isolation we all feel. To the core, we are all the same.

Listen to this film, you will be rewarded.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2008
"Babel", outside of it's Biblical connection, is also a severe example of "what comes around, goes around". Or, you could look at it as an example of the "Butterfly Effect". However you do it, this is a good film!It is an example (to me) of how one mindless act, reverberates around the world, and affects so many people. There are the most tenuous of threads connecting these people to one another. It is also the decisions they make in the wake of this act, that fuels the story.

We first meet an American couple, vacationing in Morocco (?). As their bus begins climbing a small grade, the wife is shot. the wound is not serious, but in this part of the world, medical help is somewhat hard to come by, and that fact makes it serious. Meanwhile, in San Diego, California, a nanny/housekeeper is trying to make arrangements to go to a wedding, south of the border. Unfortunately, no one seems willing to relieve her of her two charges, a boy and a girl, who belong to the vacationing couple. Next we see a young, and somewhat bitter Japanese girl who is deaf, playing volleyball. She is somewhat estranged from her father, resulting from her Mother's death. Last, but by no means the least, are a family in Morocco, whose Father/Husband has recently purchased a rifle for a handful of cash and a goat, from a man who was gifted the rifle by a Japanese hunter.

It is from here that things begins in earnest, and we are witness to a series of bad judgements that fuel the tale. This could be any of us. How would YOU fare?

This film boasts some of the best actors of our time, Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal. This film will make you think about how anything you do, could affect people you don't know, and the consequences that follow. A very good film!!
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2007
I gather from the reviews here that a lot of people don't "get" Babel. I'm not surprised -- it's a challenging work of art.

Babel is not the kind of movie we're used to seeing, and I blame Hollywood for that. Hollywood doesn't ask or expect much from us, its audience, so the stories it tells tend to be straightforward, action- or plot-driven, and for the most part, formulaic in the ways they meet our expectations. Babel is not such a movie.

On its face, Babel is a collection of loosely connected vignettes. There are common threads running through its stories ... the couple fighting for survival in the Moroccan desert, their immigrant housekeeper attending a wedding in Mexico and a depressed, deaf Japanese girl exploring her sexuality. But what connects the people in these stories is less important than what keeps them disconnected.

Fundamentally, Babel is a movie about language and understanding, or lack thereof. Misunderstandings arise out of a failure to communicate and these often have life-altering consequences. Sometimes people fail to understand each other because they speak different languages, or despite the fact they speak the same language.

I saw all five of this year's Oscar nominees in the theater on the same day and left feeling that The Departed would get the award, but that Babel really deserved it. Having watched both movies a second time since, I still feel that way.
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93 of 124 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2006
Chapter 11 of Genesis tells a story of mankind's attempt to reach heaven by building a tower, not as a way to glorify God but as a way for mankind to glorify themselves by putting them on God's level. God strikes the plan down by confusing/creating different languages so that the builders cannot understand each other thereby suspending communication. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, along with his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's take on this material is "Babel" their third and most ambitiously produced film with locales in Morocco, Japan, San Diego and Mexico and like the Bible story, Iñárritu is once again dealing with communication or lack thereof: how we talk and either no one listens or more to the point...doesn't understand. Simple themes told exceedingly well here.
In the best sequence, shot in Japan a deaf mute girl, Chieko (Rinko Cucuchi), desperate for attention and contact other than she can get from her pals, tells (actually signs) to her father (a sad sack Koji Yakusho from "Shall We Dance?"): "You Never Listen to Me!" Ironic on at least a couple of levels. Chieko is reeling from the normal drama of being a teen as well as the not so normal drama of having found her Mother dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She is also dealing with a father who is also devastated and unable to comfort himself much less his daughter. They live in a glacial glass high-rise box in Tokyo: a symbol of the icy coldness of the lives that they live within.
The two other parts of the film deal with the stars (a very good Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) in Morocco on vacation (!?) and a supposed terrorist attack and the third, a very real and scary sequence involving the Pitt/Blanchett children and their caretaker, Amelia (a terrific Adriana Barraza) and their harrowing journey into Baja California.
Every one of Iñárritu's films ("Amores Perros," "21 Grams" and "Babel") contain at least one gut-wrenching, emotional and transcendentally beautiful scene: the dog fight in "Amores Perros," the Naomi Watts scene with Sean Penn in which she explains how it is to lose a family in a random accident in "21 Grams" and here in Babel: Chieko at a Shinto dance club, the soundtrack stopping and starting to approximate Chieko's experience, Chieko: wide-eyed, wide-eyed, mouth agape...experiencing a world in which feeling and touching is paramount and hearing isn't.
Though Iñárritu and Arriaga stretch the "if a butterfly flutters its wings in Hawaii, etc." metaphor to the breaking point, there is no doubt that
"Babel" has got the goods where it counts: deep in the recesses of its soul and heart.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2007
"Babel" is the latest film from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who also served as co-producer with Steve Golin and Jon Kilik. The story begins in a desolate region in the Moroccan desert where two brainless boys decide to see how far a new rifle can fire by using a tour bus full of people as target practice. One bullet critically injures an American woman (Cate Blanchett) who along with her husband (Brad Pitt) is recovering from the death of their infant. This new tragedy follows a series of earlier tragedies (including the suicide of a Japanese woman) and begins another series of tragedies (including the deportation of the couple's illegal immigrant nanny, played beautifully by Adriana Barraza).

With the loud, abrasive action jumping back and forth through time, and from place to place (Morocco, Japan, America, and Mexico), and from one story to another, this is an exhausting film to follow. In one story, the two Moroccan boys and their dysfunctional family try to escape justice. In a related, but separate story, the American couple (portrayed with great sincerity and passion by Pitt and Blanchett) struggle in a life-or-death situation aided by the incompetent, though sympathetic, locals in a nearby village. Meanwhile in California, the couple's children are being taken care of by a loving Mexican nanny who foolishly takes the children with her nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal) to a wild wedding party across the border. In yet another story, with the most tenuous of thematic threads to link them, a teenaged deaf-mute Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) runs around the city without panties trying to lose her virginity.

Each story reveals characters with communication problems: The American couple can't talk about the baby's death or the husband's earlier desertion; the boys have never told their parents about their sister's incestuous peep shows, the nanny is not only ignorant of the English language, but of American laws; the Japanese girl, who besides having difficulty communicating with anyone who's not deaf, has a strange and strained relationship with her father.

This raw, depressing drama earns its R rating by providing in-your-face depictions of violence, nudity, survival, desperation, fear, and isolation. There's obviously some masterful storytelling and moving performances in "Babel," but overall, it's not extremely enjoyable to watch.

Leslie Halpern, author of Reel Romance: The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies and Dreams on Film: The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2007
Babel is a movie based on a series of misunderstandings, and links the unfortunate circumstances of a Moroccan, an American, a Mexican and a Japanese family all through a rifle. A Moroccan family gets a rifle to protect their goats. The father lets his 2 sons use it while he runs errands. They want to see if the rifle can really shoot as far as they were told. They practice by shooting at the tiny cars below the hill that they are on. The youngest brother ends up hitting an American woman, on a bus tour with her husband. By the time the press gets a hold of the story they label the incident as a "terrorist attack". The same couple's children are being taken care of by their caretaker. The caretaker decides to take the kids to Mexico to attend her son's wedding. On their way back in to the U.S they face a few problems when it is discovered the women has been living in the U.S. as an illegal alien. A Japanese father is having trouble communicating with his deaf teenage daughter. The girl has been craving human affection ever since the death of her mother. All the stories are linked by the rifle. Brad Pitt and Rinko Kikuchi who plays the Japanese girl give great performances. All this probably sounds confusing but in the end it will all make sense. Brad Pitt and Rinko Kikuchi who plays the Japanese girl give great performances. BRAD PITT gives his best performance only after FIGHT CLUB. The one thing I did not like about this movie was the ending, which left me wanting to know more. The blu-ray disc of BABEL has amazing picture and sound but no bonus material what's so ever. Babel is a entertaining, yet sad movie that is worth taking a look at. Babel is up against The Departed for this years Best Picture Awards at the Oscars. I enjoyed this film but to me The Departed was a better movie and will most likely take home Best Picture Oscar.
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