Slippings of Tongues

Babel. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal,
Mustapha Amhita, and Adriana Barraza star in a film written by
Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga and directed by
Iñárritu.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

With Babel, the visionary Mexican director Alejandro González
Iñárritu continues on his noble quest to affectively use the film
medium to check humanity’s pulse. If that ambition sounds overly
grand, it is, and he sometimes steps over the line of credibility
in the process, but ultimately wins us over with his message of
hope amid the rubble of our fragmented contemporary world.

Babel is the third installment of a trilogy, preceded by Amores
Perros (his masterpiece, so far) and 21 Grams; clearly Iñárritu has
honed his style of montage and the narrative cross-stitch between
stories to a high degree. This time around, an accidental shooting
of an American tourist in a stretch of desert in Tunisia triggers a
wild ride of accusations and ripples across the world: west
(Southern California and Mexico) and east (Tokyo) and forward and
backward in time. In multiple languages and with locations in
Morocco, Tokyo, and Mexico, Babel willfully attempts to crisscross
the globe in an effort to show how surprisingly connected the
world’s peoples are.

On the dark side, it also illustrates how differences of
language (including the particular language of the hearing
impaired) can result in tragic misunderstandings and skeins of fear
and paranoia. The universal love of our children is another
constant theme, and some scenes involving innocent children thrown
into the world’s machinery are painful to watch, but central to the
message.

Yes, and Iñárritu brings it all together with a sizable budget
and enough star power to ignite marquee magnetism, with Brad Pitt,
Cate Blanchett, and Gael García Bernal aboard. The most refreshing
performances actually come from new sources, Adriana Barraza as a
compassionate nanny without a green card, and Rinko Kikuchi as a
tormented Japanese teenager recovering from the suicide of her
mother. But actors are not what this film is really about; it’s
deeper and wider than that.

Once again, Iñárritu has used the unifying language of film,
with its power of montage, to remind us that we’re a troubled,
angry species, but one also equipped with the salvation potential
of compassion.

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