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1.    BABEL

     (Photo and poster: Paramount Vantage)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

Thanks largely to the magnificent writing of Guillermo Arriaga, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has superbly crafted "Babel", the best motion picture released in 2006.  The film weaves three stories with a common thread and while the device is not a new venture for the director, it is less claustrophobic than his previous efforts ("Amores Perros" and "21 Grams".)  Each story focuses on language and the aspects of differing languages that cause people to misunderstand (Gael Garcia Bernal and Adriana Barazza), to be impatient and abandoning (Brad Pitt), to tune out and ignore (Koji Yakusho and Rinko Kikuchi).  The stories are mini-movies in and of themselves, but the key is that these films exist together as one, exemplifying the complexities of the universal human experience on a daily, global basis.  Mr. Inarritu's film reflects a cosmopoltian world view, combining the maladies that lie within the human soul with events ripped from today's headlines.

Adriana Barazza plays a Mexican babysitter who for several years has cared for two white American kids; Gael Garcia Bernal is the fun-loving frolicker with more than a demon life; Kikuchi plays a deaf mute woman struggling for attention -- any kind will do.  Two Moroccan boys go off on a frolic and detour, essentially playing a long-distance game of "Russian Roulette" in the foothills and mountains of the North African nation, even though they have been warned by their father not to; while Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are -- to themselves at least -- vacationing strangers in a strange land with even stranger complexities between them as estranged American spouses who have little in common any more in their marriage. 

All of these situations are controversial in some way. 

The parents of the individuals at the heart of these situations or the parents who are the situation -- in some cases -- take little or no responsibility for the actions that occur, signing off on situations either willfully or passively assenting to them with a blindness that is searing, with a mental tone-deafness that is astonishing.  Sometimes the actions of a son will depend on the courage of a father; the actions of a father will affect or change the potential actions of a daughter; the actions of a parent will alter the course of a relationship.  "Babel"'s intricate threads are tightened by Arriaga's superbly-crafted screenplay.  In a world where listening carefully to each other is way past a stage called "paramount", this film offers ways that understanding and the gulf between individuals can be bridged.  Certainly the way to that path bridge are not easy.  There are moments in "Babel" that are despairing, agonizing and heartbreaking and there are moments of joy, reprieve and hope.  Gustavo Santaolalla's music is a great signature of emotion and the final piece of sound from the Kronos Quartet punctuates the film's two and a half hour journey, which is one well worth taking.

The PopcornReel.com "Babel" film
review first appeared on November 3, 2006.



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