Sunday, October 7, 2007

A thousand ways NOT to connect (Film - Babel)

We borrowed Babel from the library, as we had never seen it in the theater when it was released. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal are the familiar faces in it. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu directed, Guillermo Arriaga wrote the script - they are probably best known in commercial feature films for Amores Perros. The plot of the film is almost immaterial, it's set in Morroco where a privileged American couple have come without their young children to get away. The wife is shot and they cannot return as planned. The children are in San Diego in the care of their devoted Mexican housekeeper. She is supposed to attend her son's wedding in Mexico and is compelled to take the children with her when she cannot find anyone to care for them. The gun by which the American woman was shot was given to a Moroccan who served as guide for a Japanese hunter. His story, and that of his deaf adolescent daughter, forms the third panel in this triptych of parallel but linked stories.

The central idea is a good one. The film takes its title from the biblical story in which the people try to build a tower to heaven to unite humanity but god thwarts them by confusing their formerly shared language so that they can no longer understand one another. Hmmm. No wonder. Anyway, in the film people from different cultures and with different languages desperately need something from each other. The Japanese girl needs love following the death of her mother, the Mexican nanny needs to cross the border, Brad Pitt's character needs help for his wife, but the people from whom they need this help don't communicate as they do - they don't share their values, their goals, or their languages and so conflict ensues and you have drama.

The film strains a little for a sense of profundity it cannot muster, but when it doesn't pretend, it becomes compelling. I particularly enjoyed the clear work of Adriana Barraza as Amelia, the nanny, all the Japanese young people in the film, whether deaf or hearing were wonderful - it is so rare to see kids act like kids in film. For once, Brad Pitt is cast to act a character to whom something actually happens. If he had been asked to do this a bit more often, he might be further along in his ability to act. He seemed to revel in the fact that he was playing a middle aged man. His beard and hair spotted with gray and with make-up assisted wrinkles beneath his eyes, the film seemed interested in paying attention to what he was doing instead of what he looked like and so he was forced to communicate more than a general sense. He is an actor who works with a tremendous amount of tension. He always seems to want to be feeling more than he is - to let you know he's doing his job. He really almost ruined 12 Monkeys (a terrific Terry Gilliam film) that way. He played a crazy character and just couldn't stop telling us he was CRAZY. I get it Brad. He did that a lot in Babel too at the beginning, but as his character must settle down and wait, and since he got to do that with Cate Blanchett and Mohamed Akhzam - two actors who are relaxed enough to inhabit a space and do only what is necessary, not what is interesting - he was actually forced to do the same sometimes. And in that space things bubbled up for him. It must be way more interesting that the other stuff he does, so I hope he does some more of it.

I appreciated the breathless paced, hi-tech style of the film - the crystaline photography, the incredibly disparate settings, the sound track had some good stuff in it. There were many scenes depicting the press and tumult of a life, whether in downtown Tokyo or on the highway to Tijuana, or on bus in Morocco - the tourists seemed to bustle through the slow dusty lives of the place they toured through. Never needing to touch or be touched by the people they photographed. They could even order their cous-cous in English. People in this film generally live in the close proximity of many others and yet few of them ever connect. All live parallel existences to one another and yet, when speaking, usually speak only from their own needs never another's. With an abundance of ways to communicate, this film seems to say - visual and auditory languages, technological devices, government functionaries whose sole purpose is the bridging of cultures - we seem only to have found a thousand ways not to connect.


Anonymous said...

I love Brad Pitt in stuff like Mr. and Mrs. Smith (hot hot hot - great stuff - totally convincing - not too deep - and he seemed to be having a BLAST - he was very funny too) - and snarky "nostalgic" tributes like Ocean's Eleven. I've heard stories about who Brad Pitt really is - a practical joker, a goofball - all about bathroom humor, and politically incorrect jokes, etc. Julia Roberts would come back to her hotel room while filming Ocean's Eleven and find that her closet had been booby-trapped and her hotel-phone had been glued together - and there were frogs in her bed, and all that stuff. Brad Pitt and George Clooney sneaking around the hotel, planting all of this stuff in her room. That is who Brad Pitt is - I think it's hilarious!! I can so see that side of him- but you're right, he rarely gets to play it.

Middle age will be very good to his career, I am hopeful.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a fascinating film, and I love your commentary on Pitt's acting. I've never thought he was an amazing actor, but sometimes he can be fun to watch. It seems like a number of "leading man" actors really only come into their own once they're old enough that they aren't cast as "hunks" any more; hopefully he'll get that chance too.

Anonymous said...

i disagree with you and the comments of your text. Brad Pitt has spectacular talent and should not be viewed as just a model hunk guy that girls love demonstrated by sheila. His movie choices are outstanding. Yes, he does do the hollywood blockbuster thing where it is guaranteed financial success (mr. and mrs. smith, troy) but his "low-profile" films is where he should get all the attention from. Se7en, Fight club, Snatch, Kalifornia, 12 monkeys (where he scored an oscar nom), burn after reading, the assassination of Jesse James, and babel are all works where his acting is really something else. he is sure to shine in future films such as the curious case, and inglorious bastards. and the range of characters he portrays is very difficult to pull off. Overall, i thought babel was really well done and really deserved all the success it was given at the oscars (7 noms).

Ted said...

Anonymous - If you are going to disagree with me, at least offer some intelligent support of what constitutes his 'spectacular talent' other than Oscar nominations for 12 Monkeys, among his most embarrassingly over-acted performances. Award nominations are support of nothing other than a commercially successful career and artistic politics. The range of characters he is cast in is again proof of the fact that the people who have cast him know that he will sell a film, not his talent. If you want to defend his talent. Defend it with something substantial.