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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BABEL (article first published : 2007-07-4)

Babel takes you on a full sensory experience through a web of seemingly disparate narratives in the beautifully composed drama around loss, unconditional love and sacrifice in the harsh terrain of our globalised world.

Before I saw the film I had no knowledge around the meaning or the story behind the Biblical term Babel. So I decided to use trusty Google to find the answers. As it transpires, the Tower of Babel was the attempt by Noah’s descendants to reach up to heaven. God was angered by this attempt and foiled them by confusing their language so they could not understand one another.

Hence, Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu’s film Babel is aptly named as it explores themes around race, money, religion, sex and politics and the inability in a globalised and technologically advanced world in which we - as divided humans - fail to communicate effectively and compassionately between one another.

Babel leads us through an interlinking narrative web of four stories around uncontrollable and cumulative mistakes. We follow multiple journeys through a young Japanese girl, an American husband and wife, a maid and two small children and a Moroccan goat herder and his two sons.

The pivotal event is when Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett) are travelling through Morocco on a tour bus. Accidentally the two Moroccan boys shoot Susan in the shoulder as they are practicing shooting with their father’s rifle. The narrative then proceeds over a five-day discourse of the couple trying to contact the US Embassy in order to get Susan back to America to get medical help, in the midst of an international media embargo.

Although this is the central and key storyline, the “A list” Hollywood stars play a very mediocre and secondary role to the rest of the unknown cast. This gives the film a very personal and real resonance. Rinko Kikuchi steals the show as Cheiko. She gives the most memorable, poignant and brave performance as a deaf/mute girl who is longing for human contact since the death of her mother. Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu successfully achieves an almost feeling state through the use of the lack of sound and rhythmic lighting and editing, to offer insight into her perspective during a scene in a club. This is only one example of the effective sensory experience that the director achieves to deliver to the audience.

Through masterful and artistic photography of sweeping landscapes we are offered a stark juxtaposition of first and third world survival and an insight into modern existence. This astounding and moving drama keeps your eyes fixed on the screen and engrossed in every second of the compelling story.

The next time I see a drama, I hope it delivers what Babel does and I highly recommend the flawless production to be at the top of your “100 films to see before you die” list. – Kate MacIldowie




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