Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I say Bahbel, Cate Blanchett says Baybel...

Babel is what AP-Annex would call a "nosebleed" film. Its 4 intertwined stories set in 3 continents are told in a non-sequential time line that leaves the viewer a little disoriented. Its characters speak in 4 different languages (5 if you count sign language) and make amazingly stupid and frighteningly real decisions. Its ending leaves you a little depressed and a lot confused. In short, it's not exactly a feel-good movie. But then again, no one expects barrels of laughs from a film that shows an American with marital problems vacationing in Morocco with his embittered wife, who gets accidentally shot by 2 bickering young locals using a rifle originally owned by a rich Japanese businessman with a rebellious, deaf teenage daughter, while the American couple's children are unwittingly smuggled across the Mexican border to attend the wedding of their nanny's son, chauffeured by her nephew with a criminal record.

I didn't hate Babel, but I didn't love it either. I did appreciate the whole cultural relativism angle, how director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu gives the audience discreet glimpses into Moroccan, Mexican and Japanese culture. I liked the not-quite-hidden sociopolitical messages regarding American paranoia and overreaction to the terrorist threat, and illegal aliens working in the US. I admired the bold depiction of contemporary teenage behavior, which I believe many found shocking and offensive simply because their preconceived notions about the Japanese still dance around kimonos and tea ceremonies (are American teens the only ones into sex, booze and drugs?). I respected the realistic take on human behavior in general: erratic, foolish, criminal, cruel, loving, generous, kind, compassionate. I applauded the quietly strong performances delivered by a cast composed of relative unknowns, with the bigger names contributing unobtrusive, nuanced turns (Latino hottie Gael Garcia Bernal was practically unrecognizable as the deadbeat nephew). Above all, I loved the powerful dramatic skills of Adriana Barazza, whose devoted Mexican nanny could mop up the floor with awards-season-debutante-darling Jennifer Hudson's lungs-of-steel Motown diva.

However, the film is just not engaging enough, intellectually, emotionally, aesthetically. Although it makes the viewers consider some issues, it doesn't challenge them to rethink their beliefs about them. Some scenes tug at the heartstrings (mostly thanks to the brilliant Barazza), while some scenes stretch on for excruciatingly long moments of... nothing. The dry Moroccan and Mexican desert landscapes and the neon lights of Tokyo help highlight the stark contrasts between countries and cultures, but let's face it, there's nothing very interesting to see in a desert, and bright lights can only be visually stimulating for so long (heck, even a scruffy Brad Pitt did little towards captivating me). The movie Babel, like the Biblical parable for which it was named, shows the flaws and failures of humanity, but it also exhibits its own flaws and failures as a film.

Of the 4 Oscar Best Picture nominees I've seen so far (I can't seem to find a DVD copy of Letters from Iwo Jima), Babel isn't even in my top 2 (those would be Little Miss Sunshine and The Queen, in that order). But it's more substantial and less glamorized than The Departed, and it has the advantage of not having a crazed maniac like Jack Nicholson running amuck and ruining the somber tone of the movie. Between those 2 major contenders (as beloved as Little Miss Sunshine is, it's still very much the underdog), I'd prefer Babel to win, but it would really be giving an award for excellence to a less than outstanding film.


At Wednesday, January 31, 2007, Anonymous MoJitO said...

amores perros = a must-see :)

gael = *sizzle sizzle*

At Wednesday, January 31, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Funny, I've read negative reviews of Amores Perros. But then again, they were written by the same people who showed no love for Babel and 21 Grams, so maybe they're just not Inarritu fans.

Besides, I'd go see a crappy movie as long as Gael looks good in it. ;p

At Thursday, February 01, 2007, Blogger Sean said...

I must point out that I haven't seen much praise about Babel from movie critics, and if the audience angle is to be considered, then Babel didn't post big numbers in that department either.

This was, in a sense, why the Golden Globes surprised me when they named this Best Drama. You have to wonder if there's just some massive value in the movie that people aren't seeing, or if it just happens to be one of the better movies in a year that didn't see much in the way of good movies.

At Thursday, February 01, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

I find the Golden Globes to be a relatively poor standard of popular opinion, since the awarding body is comprised of just under a hundred members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, some of whom may not even be credible critics (and many of whom don't even count English as their native language). But they did give top film honors to Brokeback Mountain last year, which to me made more sense than the Academy's choice (Crash). And the Globes are supposed to be the best indicators of the Oscars. All these awards get harder to predict every year. No wonder I keep losing to my siblings in our Oscar betting pool. :p


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