'Babel' is a film about miscommunication. The title refers to the Biblical story of the people of Babel striving to build a tower reaching to Heaven. God seeking to put a stop to this feat of engineering gives the people of the city different languages so that they can no longer work and co-operate together. Of course the origins of the worlds various languages is not so simple and neither is the message of the film. The notion of miscommunication is multi faceted, whether it be the media reporting the events of an accident spun into an act of terror, a mute girl rejected and isolated in the busiest city in the world, a married couple unable to communicate, even though they have shared the same loss or the simple explanation behind a day trip being smothered by scepticism and panic.
Completing a self proclaimed Trilogy of Death, director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu creates a hybrid of the movies that went before using the fractured storyline of ’21 Grams’ and the multiple story arcs brought together by a single incident of ‘Amores Perres’. Both these films are harrowing, intense watches, ’21 Grams’ has become a by-word for a draining viewing experience to turn any type of day into a Greek tragedy in our house. Babel, a million miles from any semblance of a laugh, never reaches these emotional depths though.
The film is not story heavy, this is not a criticism, it is not the objective of the film to tell a plot heavy tale. Equally the film does not focus on style keeping a naturalistic look throughout, avoiding say the distinctive colour themes used in ‘Traffic’ to distinguish each perspective. Only one shot circling a young boy on a Moroccan hillside towards the end shows any element of playing with the camera. The film's focus is simply on being an observation of people in a crisis and their inability to communicate, so much substance of the film goes unsaid. While the individual stories are gripping they are unfurled in a shuffle effect so that momentum is lost more than once, and scenes tend to wander, particularly the coverage of a Mexican set wedding. The effect at times is a muted and under whelming impact.
Performances are all flawless, not a trace of over shadowing with Pitt and Blanchette, and great performances from Adriana Barraza ‘the Mexican Nanny’ and Rinko Kikuchi ‘the Japanese school girl’ have duly been recognised with Supporting nominations – a testament to the great ensemble on screen.
To finish, this is a sweeping, cerebral treat of a movie and absolutely deserves its nomination for Best Picture. The film is a raw and simple insight into peoples lives, each suffering from loss, whether it be of innocence, a family member or respect and yet it has layers and resonance, being selective in the amount of information it gives us ensuring we are as vulnerable as the characters with no guarantee of a resolution. It does waver but never so much as to undo the overall effect of this thoughtful movie.