November 12, 2006

MOVIES: Babel (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2006)

Every three years, González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga deliver a new movie -- Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and now Babel -- and they all follow the same structure. Multiple storylines that initially seem unconnected, but prove not to be; editing that misleads the audience about when X is happening in relation to Y; spiraling ramifications of one small incident -- González Iñárritu and Arriaga are very good at this sort of thing, but it appears to be the only thing they can do, and on the third go-round, it's starting to feel just a little too familiar.

The biggest problem I had with Babel is that every character makes the stupidest possible choice at every possible juncture. If a single character every did the smart thing -- or even just did something that wasn't completely idiotic -- the movie would come to a screeching halt.

That's not to say that the movie's worthless; Gustavo Santaolalla's score is lovely, and there's a lot of very good acting. Adriana Barraza is marvelous as Amelia, a Mexican working as a nanny in San Diego who finds herself stuck with two kids on the day of her son's wedding; Gael Garcia Bernal is charming and funny as her nephew, Santiago, who is singlehandedly responsible for enough stupidity to make the Bush Administration look competent.

The movie's other storylines take place in Morocco, where Brad Pitt tries to get medical care for wife Cate Blanchett when their tour bus is hit by a bullet; and in Japan, where a deaf-mute teenager (Rinko Kikuchi, doing heroic work in a painfully exploitative story) is so desperate for human contact that she throws herself at any man who she thinks might be willing.

But it's so tiresome, watching these characters making decisions so stupid that they cease to be believable as people and become mere puppets being pushed around the movie by the demands of González Iñárritu and Arriaga's jigsaw-puzzle storytelling. The two men have reportedly had a falling out, which may be a good thing; perhaps working with new collaborators will help them both to find new stories to tell and new ways to tell them.


Reel Fanatic said...

While I will concede that the characters do make incredibly stupid choices, I still think this is the best movie I've seen this year ... I just loved the structure of it, and the performance by that Japanese teenager Kikuchi was just phenomenal

Keith said...

Yes, she is very good, and if her character survives the movie with a teensy shred of dignity, it is entirely due to her performance, because lord knows the writers didn't provide her with any.

(And welcome, by the way! I've been enjoying your blog very much.)