I don’t know why it took me so long to watch Babel. Especially since it’s a movie that uses the mosaic type of storytelling that I find so appealing in films. I find it pleasurable following seemingly separate storylines which, in the end, are inexplicably linked together in intricate ways, especially when each of the stories is rich and beautifully crafted. Add a powerful message that makes you feel and think, and we’re pretty close to my ideal movie. So how does Babel measure up? While I appreciated what Crash accomplished a few years ago, the message there was a bit too underlined and simplistic (racism is bad mmmkay). However, Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu’s Babel is so intimately constructed, with such great depth and subtlety, which was lacking from Crash, that it raises shoulders above. It takes the subject matter to another level, without any finger waggling.
Even though we follow four different storylines, happening in four different countries which, to start with, would seem like too shattered a premise, the film never loses momentum. Each of the stories is about miscommunication and alienation, but also about relationships – relationships between people, between cultures, between countries, between family members. There are many delicate layers to each character and the whole cast gives solid, subtle performances.
The characters that stood out the most for me were Rinko Kikuchi as a deaf-mute Japanese school girl feeling lonely and isolated in her seemingly packed-with-people world, trying to be heard, desperately yearning for some real human contact and comfort, Adriana Barraza as a Mexican nanny finding herself in an impossible, desperate and unjust situation without anyone really listening to her and Boubker Ait El Caid as Yussef, a Moroccan goat herder’s son, who sets all the stories in motion with one childish, but deadly mistake, and has to deal with the consequences and grow up to face the facts of life, heartbreaking as it may be. Not to say that the big stars of the film Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael García Bernal don’t do a good job, they do, exceedingly so – but they also gracefully share the stage with the rest of the cast. I was quite impressed with Pitt’s strong performance. It’s funny how some actors need to remind you time after time that they are in fact very good, emotive, actors. It’s just their ‘image’ that makes you forget and think less of their skills, until the next time that you see them proof themselves all over again.
Parallel to the cast, there’s also another constant element, which is as big a part of the whole experience of the movie as the actors are. My absolutely favourite thing about this film is the way the environment is depicted, it sets the tone for each of the stories so beautifully that you can’t help but get lost in the moment. Each country, each culture has its own rhythm, its own flavour. From the fast-paced neon lit Tokyo where communication is very hi-tech and super efficient but lacking in any real human contact, to the hearty exuberant Mexico with such all-encompassing physicality that it makes you giddy, to the barren calm of the Moroccan countryside where the quiet ones deliver the simple message – of caring for your fellow humans, of really listening.
There’s hope for us yet, as long as there are people who stop to appreciate, learn to understand, and never stop trying to connect with the people close to them – and who extend that appreciation and understanding to all the daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of the world.