Thursday, January 25, 2007

Babel (2006)

Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)

Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu's third feature film, is probably his most ambitious. The title is derived from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which was struck down by God thus, separating humanity from each other through language. Iñárritu's film is set in three continents (Africa, Asia and America), riddled with more than five languages, juggles four different plotlines; it's the typical recipe for a cataclysmic cinematic mess.

The four different plotlines are threaded together by the most confabulated of connections. The generous act of a Japanese man (Kôji Yakusho) of giving a shotgun to a Moroccan hunt guide ripples into what seems like a global-scale tragedy involving an American tourist being shot by a stray bullet, a Moroccan family being faced with the pressure of an unexpected dilemma, a Mexican nanny suffering the brash exclusivity of the United States of America. Surprisingly, the plot that seems to be most disconnected from screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga's manipulations rings with the most resonating emotional depth; the introspective tale of a deaf-mute Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) who can never connect with anybody in a satisfying emotional level.

While Babel still insists in the atypical narrative style ushered by Iñárritu and Arriaga's tandem, the result feels less pretentious than 21 Grams (2003), which merely utilized the technique to cover up the slightness of the plot. The temporal (mis)management felt less obtrusive, probably because Iñárritu is more intent in manipulating the global scope of his project. Interestingly, which also brings about my questioning of Iñárritu's goal in the film, is the way he edits his film; he cuts from one plot to another predictably --- usually abandoning a plot with a cliffhanger or with a resounding emotional note. I thought the technique makes Iñárritu's purpose dubious; is he bent on exposing something humanistic about our differences, or is he more interested in heavyhanded tragic theatrics and emotional manipulation. No wonder this film is being compared to last year's Oscar-joke Crash (Paul Haggis, 2004).

The individual stories actually have considerable potential. Iñárritu has great thesps to do most of the work for him. Adriana Barraza singlehandedly grounds her sequence; the otherwise heavy handed plot line of the Mexican nanny bringing two American children to Mexico for her son's wedding celebration resulting in a cross-border tragedy triumphs with the level of pathos Barraza infuses her character. It seems that the characters in Babel have an inkling to do stupid things; which is a characteristic of fables and parables, not of hyper-realistic modern-day dramas. The two American tourists (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) have little to no characterization; they seem to be existing in a vacuum of sorts --- privileged due to their citizenship, unprivileged also because of the way their nation have placed themselves in little ivory towers; causing their co-privileged tourists a great deal of anticipation when trapped in a Muslim village in the middle of nowhere.

Despite the film's pungent air of the mercantilization of human tragedy, and its questionable narrative coupled by the flimsiest of connective contrivances , there's plenty of stuff to observe here. All four plots conclude in various ways --- the Moroccan family collapses with the overblown accident, The Mexican nanny is separated from the American family she has served for a decade, the American couple survives with the help of Moroccan villagers, the Japanese father physically and emotionally rescues his distanced daughter.

It can be inferred that Iñárritu and Arriaga sees that the world's divide is not language or culture, but political and economic status. The Arab world has dwelled in America's labels; swimming upstream by trying to please America and absentmindedly turning into predators of its own citizenry (the Moroccan family). Mexico has seen itself as its northern neighbor's poor brother, with its citizenry sacrificing everything to become mere servants of what seems to be neo-colonial masters. The American couple garners privileges wherever they are in the world, its that substantial effect of their nation's global bullying. Japan, the world's apologetic benefactor (Yakusho's character seems to be as generous as his country) reaches too much to the outside while forgetting the daily woes of the inside.


Anonymous said...

since you're a law student, you must be very busy sometimes, how do you manage to watch a movie and write a review per day?

i'm quite impressed with your time management and efficiency.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks fyqg,

I think its the lack of time management and efficiency that allow me to do what I want. As my description about myself implies, I'm a part-time law student and a full-time cinephile. Fantastically, that worked for me and I'm graduating this March. We'll see if that motto can still hold true as I study for the bar.

Anonymous said...

a review a day is very impressive, considering the fact that you're not a film critic, or a student of film school, i think you must be nimble-minded, even most film critics don't write a review a day

btw, since you're a full-time cinephile, why don't we see your year's top 10 movies list

pat said...

a. g. iñarritu's style worked on his earlier and more likable film amorres peros because that movie at least allowed you to develop fondness for the characters (including the dogs)as it does not constantly shift from 1 story to another. in babel, the style seems forced and unnecessary. pampalito lang. the connection between the characters from wherever he whimsically decided to put them is also nakakaflip. maybe i just didn't get it. and what a good waste of gael.

honga oggs, asteg sa mga review. good luck with the bar exams though.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Creative and Pat,

I've been meaning to make my list but I keep on seeing new 2006 films that might make the cut. I'll probably give myself a deadline and start writing one before February.

Pat, I haven't seen Amores Peros, but I'm meaning to --- it is after all the film that put him in the map. Thanks for the bar wishes, I really hope I do pass. That way I can make my parents happy, and start doing the stuff I want to do.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you classify films according to star-rating system. Sometimes your review are vague enough for us to know whether you like the film or not?

Secondly, I'm glad to know that from your previous one-paragraph reviews, you manage to improve on it by breaking your ideas down into several paragraphs. At least, it's now easier to read.

Thirdly, I've been contantly reading your post but can't see any of your pix. Can you show some pics so that if don't like your review, I can go near you and slap your face? Or may be, if you're handsome, I can let you court me? Hehehe. Just kidding. Just few pix would do.

Fourthly, what do you think of Noel Vera as a critic?



Oggs Cruz said...

As much as I'd like to talk about movies rather than myself, here are the answers to your queries, Cindy.

1) The reason I abandoned the star rating is because it prevents me from exploring the possibilities of a film, and thus limiting my description to the film as mere one star or five stars. It's also unfair to rate films with such a stringent system since there are films which may fail artistically, but are much more deeper than those which are perfectly entertaining. Also, I'd like to give myself some credit too. I know I'm not the best writer in town, but I'd like my words to be read --- I'm also a reader of reviews, and I also make the mistake of hurrying to the star rating instead of reading the justifications for such. I just like my reviews open-ended; I'd like my reviews to elicit intellectual responses rather than mere utilities of what to watch and what not to watch (and seriously, I really don't think I'm an expert on what people should watch --- I've had friends getting mad at me for recommending something they would eventually call a waste of time).

2) Thank you very much. I admit that I'm poor when it comes to form. I'd like to consider myself as more of a poet rather than a prose writer (although that's really very arguable, I haven't had the slightest opportunity to get back to my poetic roots). However, since you've noticed it, it's really nice to know that people think I'm improving.

3) Pictures... hmmmm, I really don't have any pictures that will match the mood of my blog, or its color scheme. But we'll see. If you're the stalker type, I'm sure you'll be able to trace my friendster profile.

4) Noel Vera is a critic I admire and respect. I may not always agree with him, but his arguments are always as persuasive or more than those opposing him. His greatest contribution, in my humble opinion, is his advocacy for Filipino films. Through his writings, I've come to discover my nation's cinema --- and I really don't care how many Michael Bay's or Mel Gibson's he will bash, as long as he champions something worth championing for. He's a critic (believe it or not) with his heart in its right place.

nachocheese said...

I know this is coming a little late, but I recently watched the movie. What are your thoughts on the ending interms of what unfolded during the last scene with the japanese situation? What do you think the note or letter read to the officer from the girl? Or rather how would u interpret the letter and what it stood for? I finished watching the movie and felt that other then the Japanese situation, everything else was some what clear.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Johnson,

I must admit that I've nearly forgotten this film. I would have to re-watch it to address your questions properly. Thanks, though.