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Sadness and Cruelty, Around the World

It’s a familiar cinematic exploration. Different seemingly disparate lives that are somehow all connected bringing one closer to understanding the true meaning of humanity. The results are both joyful and sorrowful. And while it has more than the latter and less than the former, Babel is no different. While the premise is not unique, it is the characters and their stories that make it special.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores perros) and written by his collaborator on those two films Guillermo Arriaga, Babel interweaves four stories: a struggling couple Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) on vacation in Morocco; the two young sons of a goat herder in the harsh Moroccan plains; Amelia (Adriana Barraza) the nanny/housekeeper for the couple’s two young children in San Diego; and a deaf Japanese teenager, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), in Tokyo. While each thread follows its own independent storyline, they are all somehow connected (with some connections flimsier than others).

The two boys are playing with a gun when they shoot off a bullet that hits a tour bus.
Susan gets shot by said bullet and Richard fights to keep her alive while Amelia is trying to get to her son’s wedding in Mexico with her two wards in tow. Isolated and lonely, Chieko copes with her mother’s untimely death while exploring the angst that is adolescence. Although her story seems the least connected to the others, it is slowly revealed that she is indeed somehow tied to them.

The beauty and brilliance of Babel is in the details -- the way Amelia tucks the children in at night, rubbing a soothing hand on one of their heads, the way pre-shot Susan uses hand sanitizer after she touches anything foreign, Chieko’s vacant stare and angry pout, the rivalry between the two brothers. Furthermore, the movie has quite possibly one of the best club scenes ever seen. It is mostly completely without sound and if you’ve never been inside a raging nightclub this will show you exactly what it feels like as seen through the eyes of a blissed out, drugged out Chieko. There is very little joy in this film, so these moments are the ones that get you through this difficult film. They also serve as a testament to Iñárritu’s skill as a director and the abilities of the cast.

It should be noted that both Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza’s performances were particularly superb and memorable. There is already speculation buzzing about that they should receive Oscar nods for Supporting Actress. And as the premise of Babel is similar to that of other recently released films, there is no getting around the comparisons. One could say that it is this year’s Traffic. But, or course, completely different.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars