|Gael Garcia Bernal||Santiago|
|Boubker Ait El Caid||Yussef|
|Directed by||Alejandro Gonz?lez I??rritu|
Call it the Butterfly Effect, where the flapping of a gossamer wing in Singapore can send a tsunami crashing into the coast of South America. Call it Newton?s Third Law of Motion, where every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Call it Six Degrees of Separation. Or just call it the I??rritu-Arriaga Interrelation Fixation, where multiple plot lines and time lines are juggled simultaneously and cross paths unexpectedly.
Director Alejandro Gonz?lez I??rritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are the team that collaborated on the critically acclaimed Amores Perros and the more tentatively praised 21 Grams, both of which shuffled stories like cards in a poker deck. This time, the fragments ricochet around the world, through a diversion of cultures and languages and people that may reflect what God had in mind when He confused and scattered the presumptuous builders of the Tower of Babel.
How might the suicide of a depressed woman in Tokyo lead to two little blonde children being lost in the desert of the American Southwest? What?s the link between a hunter on safari in Morocco and a California couple trying to deal with the strain on their marriage left by the loss of an infant? How do goats and jackals fit into this picture? What part do hormones play? Let I??rritu and Arriaga lead the way, and it all will become clear.
There are moments of great clarity in Babel. I??rritu is a superb setter of scenes, a master of detail. And there is seldom a moment when one is not aware either that something horrible is happening or something horrible is about to happen. Dread hovers over this movie like a chaperone at a parochial school dance. From the opening moment when an old Moroccan tribesman unwraps a high-powered hunting rifle from a bundle of sticks and sells it to a mountain goatherd, the law known as ?Chekhov?s Gun? clicks into place. That law requires, in essence, that if you show a gun in the first scene you?ve got to fire it by the second or third scene. We don?t have long to wait.
The goatherd (Mustapha Rachidi) gives the rifle to his two little sons, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchani), and tells them to use it to shoot predatory jackals as the boys tend their flock in the desolate mountain landscape.
But meanwhile, in San Diego a Mexican housekeeper named Amelia (Adriana Barrazza) is taking care of two little Anglo children, Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Elle Fanning), and preparing to leave for her son?s wedding in Tijuana as soon as the parents get back.
But meanwhile, an American tourist couple, Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are traveling glumly on a tour bus through the mountains of Morocco, and squabbling over deep wounds left by the death of their infant child.
But meanwhile, in Tokyo, a teenager named Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) is wrestling with adolescent sullenness and raging hormones, complicated by the frustration of her isolation as a deaf-mute, and by the trauma of her mother?s recent suicide.
Back in the remote hills of Morocco, the boys are testing the rifle to see how far it will shoot. They spot a tour bus, and Ahmed draws a bead on it. His childish mind has no thought of consequences, no inkling of cause and effect. He pulls the trigger.
In the tour bus, a bullet pierces the window and lodges in the shoulder of the sleeping Susan. In shock and awash in blood, she is taken to the nearest doctor, in a remote village.
In Tokyo, the police want to ask some questions of Chieko?s father (Koji Yakusho.)
In San Diego, Amelia is stuck with the kids when the parents can?t come home on schedule. She decides to take them with her to Mexico for the wedding. Her scapegrace nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal) drives them across the border.
In the Moroccan village, the other tourists from the bus grow paranoid and demand to leave.
In Tokyo, Chieko is banished from her dentist?s chair when she sticks her tongue in his mouth and shoves his hand into her pantieless crotch.
In the Moroccan hills, word reaches the goatherd that terrorists have shot and killed an American tourist, triggering an international incident.
In the California desert?.
The crazy-quilt structure makes it hard for I??rritu and his actors to dig beneath the atmospheric surface into a sustained sense of what?s going on. Still, several of the actors distinguish themselves. Blanchett has little to do but bleed and moan, but she does so with style. Pitt brings weight and power to the role of the distraught husband, and allows his age as well as his talent to show. The children are all good. Barrazza is wonderful, unraveling as her misjudgments are compounded by her nephew?s recklessness. Best of all is Kikuchi, who builds an aching sense of adolescent frustration, longing, and isolation, and shows us the alternative to babel: utter, unrelieved silence.
There are a lot of stories and characters to slice and dice, but even so, the nearly two-and-a-half hour length feels endless. Sometimes it?s the oppressiveness of foreboding that feels unbearable; sometimes it?s just the length of the movie. When an old crone offers the wounded Susan a toke of hashish to relieve the pain, you may want a hit too.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be