‘Babel’ Shines at Box Office, Potential Oscar Nods

A butterfly’s wings flapping in one place can cause a tornado in another. This is the central theme of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga’s latest film. The idea behind “Babel” is that one man’s actions can affect another man’s, even if the other man is a continent away.

The film begins with the first of four seemingly unrelated stories. A man is walking through the Moroccan desert to sell his rifle to a friend named Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi). Abdullah’s purpose for the gun is much more innocent than one would first imagine: he needs it to shoot the jackals who kill his goats.
He lets his two sons Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchani) practice with the gun. Surprisingly, his younger son Yussef shows more skill with the gun than his father or his older brother Ahmed.

When Abdullah is away at work, it is Yussef’s and Ahmed’s job to herd the goats and kill the jackals. Out of boredom and a desire to show off to one another, the two start shooting at passing cars. Yussef makes the best shot and ends up stopping a tour bus in the middle of the road.

However, this is not what sets in motion the chain of events that connects all the characters.

A Japanese girl 10,000 miles away is attempting to cope with her mother’s death, her deafness, and her sexuality. Chieko (Rinko Kikuji) lost her mother to suicide and even though her father, Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) speaks to her through sign language, he and Chieko are unable to communicate.

This second story highlights another theme of “Babel.” Inarritu and Arriaga show that people’s inability to communicate goes beyond the barriers of language.

In the third story line, a married couple named Richard and Susan (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett) have come to Morocco to deal with their child’s death, but neither one of them can talk about it.
Meanwhile, their other children are back home in San Diego with their Mexican nanny Amelia, played by Adriana Barraza, who gives one of the film’s standout performances.

The fourth story lines unravels as Amelia is getting ready to go to Mexico for her son’s wedding. When circumstances do not allow for the children to stay behind, she takes them with her. Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays Amelia’s nephew Santiago, is smart, witty and a bit of a loose cannon. When one of the children say that their mother warned them that Mexico is dangerous, he said, “Yes, it’s full of Mexicans.”

Inarritu has assembled a stand out cast from heavyweights such as Blanchett, Bernal, and Pitt to unknowns such as Rachidi and El Caid. The actors seem to live the roles they play and in a true rarity, one forgets that they are even acting.

It feels as though the viewer was given a look into the lives of these people, allowing anyone to identify with almost any of the characters. He burrows deep into the characters heart-aches and difficulties, and evokes heartfelt and moving performances from every one of the actors.

The actors, some of whom are virtually unknown to American audiences, are what make this film truly worth watching. While Pitt and Blanchett put forth great performances as a couple coping with the death of a child, they are not what make the film great. Barraza gives one of the best performances in the film. Torn between the responsibility to her charges, and the responsibility to her family, she chooses her family and the outcome is disastrous. Yakusho, the father who has lost his wife and seems to be losing his daughter as well, is stellar. One can really feel his anguish and how hard he is trying to be the father his daughter needs. Come Oscar time, these two should not be forgotten.

However, as with his other films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams,” the acting is not the only thing that makes the film great. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is dazzling.

Prieto has a penchant for scenery and backdrops, which is evident in other films he has worked on, such as “Brokeback Mountain” and “Alexander.” He makes even the most barren and dry deserts seem beautiful. The mountains of sand look like heaps of cocoa powder.

In Japan, he overindulges himself with color, light, and sound and the outcome is nothing short of mesmerizing. It feels like being trapped inside of a kaleidoscope. He makes Mexico look beautiful and gritty at the same time with his wide shots of the towns and his close-ups of trash and plastic Tecate chairs.

“Babel” was not just a visual feast, but also a film about the reality of life. It shows that people may be incapable of communicating with each other despite speaking the same language, but Inarritu and Arriaga offer hope that perhaps people can learn.

*** 1/2 out of 4