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2006 films


a review by Tom Condon, OP

I missed this acclaimed film during its initial run last fall.  However, in the wake of its Golden Globe Award for Best Picture-Drama, and several Oscar nominations, it has returned to theaters and I had a chance to see it.  It’s hardly a perfect film, but is certainly well worth seeing.

BabelBabel interweaves three stories across nations and continents.  Events are set in motion in Morocco when a man buys a rifle to keep jackals away from his heard of goats.  While away, the man’s two sons shoot at a tour bus on a road in the distance, never imagining they would hit the bus, much less do any damage.  Unfortunately, the bullet hits and severely wounds Susan, an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) while her horrified husband Richard (Brad Pitt) sits next to her.  Richard then has the daunting task of seeking medical attention for her in the Moroccan desert. 

Meanwhile, Richard contacts Amelia, a Mexican nanny for his two young children back in San Diego.  Richard asks Amelia to stay with the children an extra day during the crisis.  Amelia tries in vain to get someone to keep the children so that she may attend her son’s wedding across the border in Mexico.  As Amelia’s nephew comes to pick her up, she has no other option but to take the children to the wedding with her, promising she will bring them back home that evening.  As you might guess, Amelia’s plans to return the children back home are prevented by a border guard at the crossing.

BabelThe third major story line involves Chieko, a deaf-mute teenage girl in Japan.  Chieko lives with her father after her mother has committed suicide.  Hindered in her ability to communicate her need to grieve and her need for attention, Chieko begins to act out sexually.  The connection between the Japanese story and the others becomes evident late in the film. 

 Acclaimed Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarrito has created a unique film with a truly global scope.  As we sit in the comfort of our homes watching news from Iraq and other far-away nations, what we see seems very distant and removed from our daily lives.  In Gonzalez Inarrito’s vision, nothing is isolated, everything is connected.  The random rifle shots of boys in Morocco have direct links to families in three different continents. 

Even though humans may share connections across the boundaries of nations and cultures, our inability to communicate keeps us separated.   Chieko’s deafness prevents her from communicating her needs to her father and friends.  Suspicious border guards will not listen to Amelia.  Richard is hampered in his ability to get medical attention for Susan due to his lack of knowledge of Moroccan language and culture.  Despite the fact that we can get news instantly from all over the world, Babelsuggests that we still are not far from that Biblical image.  With all our modern technology, we still do not understand one another.  It’s true within families as much as it is across cultures.

Gonzalez Inarrito does a great job capturing each particular culture:  from the fast-paced life of Tokyo to the slow meandering life of the Moroccan desert.  The cross cutting between stories is also very effective.  Babel’s greatest weakness is in the connection between the stories, particularly the Japanese story line.  For much of the film, the audience is frustrated because we don’t know how the Japanese story relates to the rest of the film.  Even when we finally discover the connection, it’s a weak link at best. 

I should also note that the Japanese story has some disturbing elements in it, as Chieko experiments with her sexuality in order to attract attention from others.  Yet, I felt for her, especially as the film progresses, as Chieko tries desperately to reach out in the only way she can imagine.  Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchu deserves the accolades she has received, including an Oscar nomination, for her performance as Chieko.  Also Oscar nominated is Adriana Barraza for her fine performance as Amelia. 

Despite its flaws, I found Babel to be an engrossing and moving experience.  I applaud Gonzalez Inurrito for his global vision, marred by an inability to communicate.  As members of a world wide order of preachers, Babel encourages us to continue to work hard to break down barriers so that we may learn to communicate truth to our sisters and brothers across the globe.

Tom Condon, OP     

encourages us to continue to work hard to break down barriers so that we may learn to communicate truth to our sisters and brothers across the globe."

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L -- limited adult audience

The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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