Last night I went to see Babel, the Oscar winning Mexican and American film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.
It really is an extraordinary movie, combining artistic integrity, a gripping plot and thought provoking political content. The high quality of the result is the effective combination of these elements.
The film uses the interrelated stories of four families, from Japan, Morocco, the USA and Mexico, who are all impacted by a tragic shooting. Attention shifts from one story to the next: what works really effectively here is that, for example, the Japanese story deals with grief, so by the time the other stories reach dramatic conclusions with death and danger, we are already emotionally conditioned to be deeply moved, which jolts you out of the complacency that we usually feel about screen violence.
There is also a strong exploration of the relationship between the developed world and the developing world. The vibrancy and vitality of Mexican culture is counterposed to middle class American suburbia, but then the economic and power imbalance is forcefully brought home at the border. This is all nicely understated, as with the genuinely traumatic identification we have with the cute white children lost in the desert, but then casually a US border policeman asks the Mexican nanny if she has any idea how many Mexican children die making the crossing. The cultural and economic gulf is further brought home because the only two occasions where the timeline differences between the stories becomes explicit also bridge between the two worlds.
The story is occasionally melodramatic, and occasionally seems derivative, but the acting performances are universally excellent, and overcomes any objections. Rinko Kikuchi’s portrayal as a deaf mute girl dealing with grief is utterly convincing, and had some resonance for me with Julliette Binoche’s role in “Three Colours, Blue”, but with the added brilliance of how Rinko shows the vulnerability, insecurity and also joy of being a teenager.
Gustavo Santaolalla won an Oscar for the musical score, which is completely deserved. The music effectively underpins the emotional intensity, and there are some brilliant set pieces, such as Rinko's drug expereince.
Anyway, it is a great film. See it of you can.