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Babel | Review

Listen without Prejudice

Latest Arriaga/Iñárritu confection is not less destructive when children are onboard.

With 21 Grams being the shell-shocking emotional fatality found experience of the trilogy, and Amores Perros being the gem of cataclysmic chance happenings, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s final leg of the timeline deconstruction and thematic clots is the most cautionary saga of the three. After what seemed like an interminable wait from its May world premiere at Cannes, the geographically ambitious, visually captivating and dramatically tension-filled Babel is one of the richest cinematic experiences of the year-end theatrical calendar.

Arriaga’s narrative strategy has certainly lost its air of originality and it is not as though the storyline structured around the consequences of a misplaced or misused gun or bullets has been done before, but the crisscrossing the paths of complete strangers and universality that unites strangers nonetheless makes a strong case for how one catastrophic event and ripple-like chain effect allows for a strong dramatic vortex and deep introspection. Like a newspaper headline of the 6 year-old who brings the wrong object to school for show and tell, Arriaga explores the notion of how one seemingly inoffensive-looking weapon becomes a literal mace for mass destruction with haphazard linkages occurring in different time zones. The emphatic notion that is explored here is for parents to keep a closer eye out for those who aren’t of age to make better cognitive choices, and while the film comes across with more poeticism and strategically less organized, the discussion that permeates after the film’s end is how the upper-class & lower-class divide shows that a happy ending is possible – at least for those who can afford it.

A sequence that explores the fascination of two Moroccan boys with a deadly weapon also symbolically addresses a reoccurring notion – the intrusion of a foreign matter. A shotgun devastates the peasant lives of a tight-knit family, a bullet becomes a physical intrusion for an ugly American couple combo of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, a young girl in a Tokyo cityscape feels the effects of an LSD hit, a couple of white kids cross borders into a culture that is less conspicuous than a first visit to Disneyland. There is a commentary and vocabulary for each storyline, excellent dramatic performances from the ensemble cast especially with actress Adrianna Barazza who plays the Mexican nanny poignantly highlights the rapture of communication breakdowns and they all become ponds when Iñárritu inserts a weapon and then dangles it in front of the viewer. The same notion can be said when the filmmaker briefly disorientates viewers with the omission of noise in favor for silence – a technique which he used in his short among a collection of shorts in 11’09”01 – September 11.

Technically brilliant, Iñárritu’s trek around the globe is backed by Rodrigo Prieto’s photography – sublime imagery and a composition that volleys between establishing long shots and intense close-ups evoke a strong sense of the barriers that encompass the space of the characters and it also breathes viewers on the possible tensions that exist. Timeline shifts don’t further the film’s message nor aid in developing plotline but they nonetheless create a barrage of wrenchingly-designed tense moments. One of contemporary cinema’s more talented auteurs (and without pretension), Iñárritu is a wizard at plunging viewers and perhaps almost drowning viewers in his themes of globalize-isolation. Pray that he doesn’t venture into making a comedy anytime soon.

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at IONCINEMA.com (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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