gael, brad pitt, cate blanchett-- all in a movie by guillermo gonzález iñárritu. . . there was no way i was not going to like this movie. gael garcía bernal is my favorite actor of all time. cate blanchett is quickly becoming one of my fave contemporary actresses. and gonzález iñárritu is the director of one of my favorite movies ever, amores perros
. so it was no surprise to me how much i enjoyed babel
. but what did surprise me is that what made me this movie awesome was just as much the supporting performances as it was gonzález iñárritu's script and directing and the leading performances by blanchett and pitt.babel
, like gonzález iñárritu's other movies is difficult to summarize, since he favors the tryptich sort of storyline. in babel
there are four stories that overlap. the film opens with a moroccan family who buys a gun for hunting. two young boys in the family, horsing around with the weapon, accidentally shoot a tour bus, wounding a u.s.-american tourist played by cate blanchett. meanwhile, in one parallel storyline, a mexican-american nanny takes two children she is caring for south of the border to her son's wedding (with predicatably tragic results). and in a second parallel storyline, a deaf japanese schoolgirl is having a really terrible day, struggling to communicate with various boys that she meets and reaching out to them mostly through sexual overtures.
at first, babel
seems a confusing barage of plot points, apparently disconnected from one another. however, if you have seen gonzález iñárritu's other films, you know that this ostensible disconnect will be erased in the end. as babel
progresses, the viewer begins to see how each of these characters' lives is connected with the others, people who (largely) they have never met. in amores perros
what connected all of the characters was a dog; in babel
what finally connects them is the gun that is exchanged in the opening scene.
as anyone can probably deem from its title, babel
is a film about problems with communication. however, unlike the mythic tower of babel, what breaks down communication here is everything BUT language barriers. the u.s. tourists in morocco have little difficulty communicating with the arabic-speaking people they come in contact with on their "vacation" but they cannot get through to their fellow english-speaking tourists at all. the mexican-american family can't talk to the border patrol agents they meet on their return to the states, even though they speak perfect english. and the deaf japanese girl communicates freely with people she meets throughout her day, though she is never able to express her true feelings to anyone. the final motto, in a few words, is that communication is much more than words.
of course, the script is amazing. it couldn't not be. and blanchett, pitt, and gael are all great (although gael's role is inexplicably small and abrupt). but what really amazed me in this film was not any of this, but rather the fantastic supporting performances by oscar-nominated adriana barraza and rinko kikuchi. kikuchi, as the deaf japanese girl, gives this fantastically haunted, bizzarely sexual v. asexual performance that leaves you in the end with your jaw on the floor. i haven't been that mystified by a character since scarlett johannsen in lost in translation
. but, for my money, the single best on screen performance of 2006 (period) was barraza as the tortured mexican-american nanny. she will give you nightmares. john and i debated about what scene we liked most from babel
, but they were both centered around barraza. she has a small role in amores perros
as well, and i was glad to see her get some more screentime this time around. she is fantastically talented.
all i have to say is that people talk about jennifer hudson as this year's a star is born moment, but i see her quickly disappearing. adriana barraza is the real newborn star of 2006. as latin american cinema appears to really be in the middle of a tremendous surge in popularity worldwide, i hope i see a lot more of her. and, even though it won't happen, if there is any justice we'll see her on the oscar podium next sunday as well.