Alejandro González Iñárritu
I thought Alejandro Iñárritu’s 21 GRAMS was a good movie—not the most uplifting picture, but interesting for the way in which it was told (probably moreso than the story itself). In BABEL, Iñárritu uses the same idea and non-linear structure to showcase a film that’s again well-made, but in this case the fractured storytelling doesn’t really add anything worthwhile. In fact, more than once, the discordant timeline ruins the suspense that’s the foundation for two of the major plots. The style also feels like it rushes each story, many of which have too much going on to begin with. Even with superb acting from everyone, especially a weathered-looking Pitt and newcomer Rinko Kikuchi, characters get shafted by the hasty pace, leaving you wanting more (and not in a good way). For example, Pitt and Blanchett’s situation should be the crux of the overall story, but it feels like they’re barely in the movie. In other cases, maybe due to the pacing, maybe bad writing, characters we’re supposed to care about just aren’t that sympathetic. (SPOILER: An illegal immigrant nanny illicitly takes the kids to Mexico, loses them in the desert and you want me to feel bad that she gets deported?)
I did find the initial (insofar as the title) idea of language in the movie to be quite interesting. The dichotomy of Spanish-English between the nanny and the children, the way Blanchett uses select words to confront her husband at the beginning, and Chieko—who lacks verbal communication period—showcases the obvious value of language in such dire circumstances, but also drives home the fragile consequences of communication to the human condition and identity. Now this may seem interesting, but it’s not something that’s actively developed in the film. And that’s BABEL’s spotlight problem: it doesn’t follow through on any of its potential. None of the stories really have anything to do with each other thematically (half of them are barely tied together by the plot) and at no point do they come together to reinforce a single point, which is something I perhaps unfairly came to expect. At over two hours, BABEL feels long and, even worse, rather pointless in the end.
After it’s over it feels like you’ve just witnessed a complex and powerful drama, but upon closer inspection you’ll find BABEL ends up substituting “deceptively straightforward” for “complex” and “unnecessarily depressing” in place of “powerful.”
Common Ground: Under Construction Notes (1:27:34): This feature-length documentary covers the entire strenuous shoot in Morocco, Mexico and Japan, showcasing the general feel on set and behind the camera. Aside from the production, it also gives a very thorough (and seemingly honest) look at Iñárritu as a director, not only how he commands the set but where he comes from from a cultural, spiritual and philosophical perspective. The man's obviously intelligent, if not a bit much like an “artiste,” but its still a nice feature that's not your average Making Of.
Also, a Theatrical Trailer and Previews.
Extra Tidbit: Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga’s longtime partnership ended during the making of BABEL, over authorship credit for 21 GRAMS. Iñárritu even banned Arriaga from BABEL’s Cannes premiere, so I wouldn’t look for them to collaborate anytime in the near future.