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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.52%
Worth A Look: 13.91%
Pretty Bad24.35%
Total Crap: 20.87%

9 reviews, 61 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Lest We Be Scattered Upon The Face Of The Entire Earth"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You may not recognize it upon first viewing, but the work of director Alejandro González Iñárritu and collaborator Guillermo Arriaga has a quiet power that is going to hit you once all its ruminations come into focus. There’s a visceral quality to the emotions they get across in their desperate characters but not through the manipulative means of a filmmaker’s hammer. They introduce us to a sprawling eclectic, this time on a global scale, puzzle us with its timeframe and then let us drift through its winds to find and then connect the overriding themes they’ve chosen to tackle within each thinly connected reality. Label it an overview of international relations with Americans as the ultimate celebrity or simply how the sins of the guilty are visited unfairly upon the innocent.

Anytime storytellers want to introduce a gun into their framework, it’s a symbolic nudge that tragedy is on the horizon; no matter accidental or intentional. In Morocco, that gun is passed along from one goat-herder to another; a hunting rifle intended to keep jackals away and a responsibility passed down to the man’s young sons. The younger of whom impressing his older brother with his crackshots decides to shoot at a far-off tour bus to test the rifle’s range. A shot is fired and the bus stops. On the bus are a vacationing American couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett), trying to get away from the blame and guilt over the death of one of their children. Maybe a trip to the islands and tiny drink umbrellas would have been preferable to the bullet Susan takes in the shoulder.

Back home in California, the couple’s nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza) watches their two young children and is asked to stay an extra day due to the Moroccan incident. Only Amelia’s own son is getting married that day, so she is forced to extend her invitation to a plus-two, as she takes the young ones into Tijuana with transport by her nephew, Santiago (Gael García Bernal). Meanwhile in Tokyo we are introduced to Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute teenager still dealing with the residual effects of her mother’s passing. Grief has turned into anger, getting herself thrown out of a volleyball game and growing even more distant from her father (Kôji Yakusho). Sign language and scribbling fail to provide Chieko with the personal connection she ravishly desires though as she is teased for being a virgin and channels her frustration into a constant flirtation with anyone who can see beyond her malady.

This fourth strand seemingly doesn’t have the Magnolia/Crash/Short Cuts-like connection to the other three, but its not just family trees and coincidental correlations. Chieko’s story, in many respects the most powerful of the foursome, involves the agony of loss, suspicion and, maybe the greatest pain of all, feeling alone in a world that is making no effort to associate with you. As Richard desperately seeks medical attention for his wife, he finds temporary solace in a small village without the necessary supplies or modern techniques he would have at the other end of a phone back in America. He’s also engulfed by the fear of his fellow travelers who believe that more bullets could arrive if they stay dormant for any longer.

Amelia will also experience such abandonment, coming face-to-face with the close familia community she’s left behind to become an uninvited guest in a country that happily welcomes her people to join the workforce as long as they don’t cause trouble in the lives of its true citizens. How willing would you be to give up the people you call family? Amelia has already made such a choice years ago, but now must confront it over and over again just as her nephew does on their return trip to America. The Moroccan authorities, trying to keep the shooting from becoming an international incident with a media obsessed only with the welfare of Americans, have a more pressing situation in their face-off with the young boys who must choose between confession or protecting their own. On the flipside, Richard and Sarah find themselves on the verge of giving up on each other over an accident but find another one bringing them closer together than ever.

Iñárritu and Arriaga certainly don’t make it comfortable for more easily stirred viewers. Their characters are emotionally damaged who find themselves acting with those damaged emotions out of necessity and overriding a better sense. But they sway us back and forth in the hopes of identifying with each state of mind. Only Pitt’s Richard acts the most psychologically coherent, using his rage towards saving a life even if its just about rectifying whatever blame he carries with him for his child’s death. Amelia, Santiago, Chieko and the Moroccan family all make questionable decisions along this journey and yet we find empathy in the most unexpected of places. A stunning bit of audible prowess at a discotech pulls us right into Chieko’s world and the casting decisions of two border patrol officers is an understated reminder of the melting pot that can burn you as quickly as give you a taste.

George Carlin has made a habit out of saying that there are no “innocent victims”; everyone is guilty of something throughout their lives and may pay for it when they least expect it. That theme blankets the characters of Babel, who unwittingly pay their misdeeds forward and continue the chain of sufferage. America’s presence on the global front is felt even when we’re not really doing anything and certainly not deserving of attention. The biblical implications of the title refer to the unifying of the people who once all worked together to build a tower large enough to reach God himself. These days such towers are built by faceless corporations and, as 9/11 showed us, just as easily torn down by the beliefs and languages that have divided us since the days of the Old Testament. Babel’s intercontinental saga weaves its power through instead of above us in the effort of its own testament that the inner horrors of our time on Earth should be a uniter and not a divider, no matter who the decider might be.

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originally posted: 10/27/06 14:28:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2006 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell bleak but potent 4 stars
11/19/11 Chris. Have had a rash of movies I don't want to finish recently, finished this one. 4 stars
7/26/11 daveyt didn't get a pay-off after sitting through it all, just too random and disconnected for me 3 stars
9/01/09 Adam Film was just bleak. Very crafted view fo tragic events and consequences. Poor story links. 3 stars
8/16/09 tony Rubbish. made for highbrow dinner party arty types with nothing better to talk about 1 stars
10/30/08 David Babel calls for listening, if you say you did, and you didn't get the idea, then you didn't 5 stars
9/04/08 Alexandru Totir Very interesting movie and I like how they combined the scenes to make something unique 5 stars
6/10/08 mr.mike Very good , sustained my interest throughout. 4 stars
6/01/08 Leon Unusual and absorbing; well- dramatised C'est la Vie! of life's vagaries 4 stars
5/27/08 Matt Crap. Couldn't even get the bus-shooting scene right. 1 stars
5/25/08 Joh Hansen continuity problem with the bus going L to R and KB shot in L clavicle! 3 stars
4/21/08 Dhanu great 5 stars
4/05/08 stephanie willis enjoyed - especially the Afghan boys - thought they did a fine job - always like Blancett 5 stars
3/10/08 Jayme Isaacs Good Movie 4 stars
3/05/08 ladavies some of it worked, some didn't (Brad Pitt's storyline) 3 stars
9/28/07 Noelle Stephens It was an ok movie. It would have been better without the Japanese story line. Too much! 3 stars
9/25/07 Lenore Disappointing, shallow, but thankfully, good environments. 2 stars
9/01/07 goatfarmer Frustrating movie, beautifully shot, about frustrated people behaving recklessly 3 stars
7/11/07 wil j. Study of fateful global human interconnections; even amongst strangers who will never meet 5 stars
7/11/07 VIVEK KRISHNAN GOOD 3 stars
5/20/07 luke this movie was so stupid i would have rather eaten a cake and thrown it up 1 stars
5/14/07 Jonathan Holmes The best film of 2006, and a pity to those who can't understand Inarrtiu's geinus 5 stars
5/01/07 action movie fan good quartet in one. shooting of wife in morocco the most gripping of the bunch 4 stars
4/23/07 JeromeBosch Incredible acting, gorgeously lensed, a brilliant movie. 5 stars
4/13/07 fools♫gold That old-school drama I won't watch again; "21 Grams" was better. 3 stars
4/06/07 Anthony incredible- moving, challenging, brilliant writing and acting- loved it 5 stars
3/12/07 Jose M. Terrific and Heartfelt film . Dawn Learn how to spell against . 5 stars
3/10/07 Dickman Fragmentation of 4 pretentioius half-stories makes a kid's jigsaw puzzle, not a drama. 3 stars
3/08/07 Butt Third time is not the charm for Inarritu - boring 3 stars
3/03/07 Joe Smaltz Strange movie, strange plot, strange casting no story line 1 stars
2/27/07 Veronica Price There is nothing to explain in this moronic film. Absolutely stupid. 1 stars
2/26/07 Thomas Brown Best movie of 2006! No use trying to explain that to people who just don't get it. 5 stars
2/25/07 Stephen Drinkard Excellent film. I feel sorry for the people who couldn't understand this film. 5 stars
2/25/07 R.W.Welch Asian thread a little weak; otherwise pretty solid. 4 stars
2/15/07 ES A more accurate title would have been- 'Really Stupid Decisions' 2 stars
2/13/07 robert zimmerman probably the best film i've ever seen 5 stars
1/28/07 Cassandra Gleason Vacuous and slow-paced. Trite. Waste of 2.5 hours. 1 stars
1/22/07 Tony Vawser powerful, intense, involving, rewarding 5 stars
1/22/07 Monday Morning Only depression-junkies would like this drawn-out piece of shite. 1 stars
1/21/07 TheReelMcCoy About 30 minutes worth of "high concept" packed into two hours. 1 stars
1/18/07 Mark Iñarritu is a fraud and Gael Garcia must go back to the mexican soap operas. 1 stars
12/27/06 Agent Sands Especially right now in time in terms of both politics & everyday people, Babel's important 5 stars
12/16/06 Elizabeth Amazing! 5 stars
12/16/06 Bob Cetlin Great review of an awful movie. Impossible to enjoy even the beautiful scenery. 1 stars
11/25/06 joe total crup 1 stars
11/25/06 Greg The movie is reflective of the dichotomy and ethnocentric predicaments in the world. 4 stars
11/21/06 marie i really like it, especially the japanesse girl story! 5 stars
11/19/06 jcjs i liked it bunches and my friend didn't...lots didn't like this problem i liked 4 stars
11/18/06 Ramblingdriver A tax write-off for movie studio / paycheck for actors 1 stars
11/17/06 george good idea, but badly executed. Too long + depressing.Shouldn't have cast any famous actors. 1 stars
11/17/06 FilmGoer pretty good....but what was in that final note 4 stars
11/15/06 Valerie The kid who shot the rifle was the best character/actor 2 stars
11/15/06 Jamethon I agree, Iñárritu needs to stop repeating the same formula over and over again. 1 stars
11/14/06 alex annoying and tedious as hell, twice as long as it needs to be 1 stars
11/14/06 John M Depressing, waste of time. I want my 2 hours back. 1 stars
11/14/06 Gayle Did like this movie. Would not recommend it. Brad Pitt was horrible. Hard to follow. 2 stars
11/13/06 mwpmd A total waste! Sorry excuse for political commentary and entertainment. 1 stars
11/13/06 J.Pet Brad Pitt, should consider early retirement!!! 1 stars
11/13/06 Mauricio Excellent trama, 5 stars
11/13/06 John I love this movie, very good. 5 stars
11/06/06 Timber The exquisitely tramatising need to communite: Keep this concept in your mind throughout. 5 stars
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  27-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Feb-2007



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