Monday, January 08, 2007


I went to the cinema again this afternoon. A proper cinema too: people were smoking in the lobby, and several elderly couples trudged in to watch the movie.

I watched a film called "Babel", which opens in the UK in a couple of weeks. It's by the Mexican director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the man behind Amores Perros (which I've seen) and 21 Grams (which I haven't).

Babel is similar in structure to his previous work, in that he interweaves several storylines at once. Amores Perros is a film about dogs, with a triumvirate of narratives connected by a car crash. Babel is about children (in a roundabout way) and its 3 or 4 sub-plots are connected by a shooting.

I can't quite decide what to make of the film. To be sure, it is extremely well crafted: a breathtaking collage of characters and languages across three continents from Tijuana to Tokyo. The film looks great, and sounds superb. A deaf Japanese girl is one of the main characters, and the parts where the sound is muted when we see/hear things from her perspective are particularly striking.

The acting too, cannot be faulted. People will watch this film because of Brad Pitt, who is excellent in it. The other star names are Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal, although they don't get a great chance to showcase their considerable talents to the full. All the performances are extremely good, but I'd say the film is stolen by Rinko Kikuchi, who plays the deaf Japanese girl, and Adriana Barraza as the Mexican housekeeper. They've already been nominated for Golden Globes.

The reason I haven't quite made up my mind is because there isn't a great amount of point to the film. If it has a message, it keeps it fairly well hidden (it might be "keep an eye on your kids", it might be "don't shoot at buses", I'm not sure). Films don't need messages to be successful, of course, but this feels like the kind of movie that should have one. It's not exactly knockabout stuff (death, masturbation, police brutality etc), or short either, at nearly two and a half hours. I guess this is probably more for the serious cinephile than the casual popcorn muncher. It won the best director gong at Cannes so, despite the big names, is firmly an arthouse effort.

If you like Mexican movies, smoking in cinemas, Japanese schoolgirls, films set in Morocco or Brad Pitt, you should probably see this film. When you do, let me know what you thought of it.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Ok, I went and saw the film tonight. I thought it was great to watch (it actually didn’t feel as a long as it was, which is always a good sign). But like you I am struggling to see the message.

One thing which struck me was the point that the world is (has become? or has it always been?) such a small place. You would think people in countries and cultures as diverse and supposedly as „different“ as Japan, Morocco and Mexico must be worlds apart. But no, people there all face the same kinds of problems within their families, their lives, their (lack of) communication with others. Whatever part of the world we are at home in, the problems people have to face (but more often choose to ignore) are pretty much the same.

And the Americans, it seems, manage best to shut themselves off completely from the real world - if they ever get into trouble (or rather: if someone from the outside world ever gets them into trouble) they simply call their embassy (which is a bit like pressing Alt+Ctrl+Del) or are rescued by their police (as in the case of the kids) and all is well.