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105 of 118 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Multi-Cultural Allegory for Man's Inability to Communicate, May 22, 2007
This review is from: Babel (DVD)
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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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 24, 2007 8:38:07 AM PDT
9 2 5... says:
Great insight.

Posted on May 25, 2007 11:28:44 AM PDT
Suzanne says:
Thank you very much. I really tried to look beyond the surface of this film to get to the heart of its message. While I agree with the one reviewer who stated that it might not be the the most significant document of our time that it tried to be, it still succeeds on a great many number of levels.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 1, 2007 2:23:30 PM PDT
AK says:
How do you do. Found you through a comment you left to a writing I had done on Ugetsu. I know, I'm dreadfully slow in response. I must say, there's a quality in your writing that makes reading your comments an absolute joy. And a great film, by the way.

With best regards, Antti.

Posted on Jun 2, 2007 4:53:18 PM PDT
Suzanne says:
Thank you very much, Antii. Perhaps I should push myself to write more reviews. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2007 6:13:10 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 8, 2007 11:52:39 AM PDT
AK says:
Hi there, and thanks for your reply. More Mizoguchi would be most welcome, and if I'm not completely mistaken the rumor has it that Criterion would indeed be getting to some more Mizoguchi through Eclipse. And there was talk of Naruse, as well.

One film that I hope Criterion could in the near future get their hands to is Teshigahara's "Gaudí", which unfortunately isn't included in the boxset of this summer.

And you should most certainly keep writing. You're that good.

With best regards,
Antti.

Posted on Jul 13, 2007 5:57:57 AM PDT
G. Jennings says:
Excellent and astute insight, Suzanne. Until I read your review, I simply missed the premise behind the entire movie, but your perspective has definitely put into context the way the film was intended. With that in mind, the movie takes on a completely different meaning for me. Thank you for sharing that.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 13, 2007 9:19:34 PM PDT
Suzanne says:
Thanks for the compliments. I'm glad my review helped you appreciate this great film in a new light. :)

Posted on Feb 27, 2013 7:36:43 AM PST
Lionwoman says:
What a insightful and thoughtful review! I am very impressed with your review. It will make watching this movie much more enlightening. I put the movie into my Watchlist just now.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2013 11:06:49 PM PST
Suzanne says:
Thank you very much!

In reply to an earlier post on May 4, 2013 9:10:13 PM PDT
I agree with G Jennings. I was unhappy with the pacing, the clunkiness of the "interlocking" storylines, but after reading your review I like the movie much better. Thank you!
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