Thursday, November 02, 2006

BABEL: Let's challenge prejudice together

This review is brought to you by guest reviewer, Nik, who can usually be found here.

This is the last in the trilogy of films by Alejandro González Iñárritu starting with the Bafta winning
AMORES PERROS, followed by 21 GRAMS, and completed by BABEL - a film of interwoven characters and relationships spanning the globe, from the Mexican desert, to the sunshine of San Diego, the wastelands of Morocco, and the buzzing nightlife of Tokyo. The locations are exotic, the scenery and visuals are quietly stunning, and despite the sarcasm of the title of this review, this film doesn't think too much of itself, or withdraw up its own arse.

In fact, the beauty of the film is that it so carefully treads the thin line between being in your face, paint by numbers morality - and being so understated that it becomes arthouse wank. It makes a simple point simply - and beautifully - that it's not so easy to be prejudiced when you have to look a human being - crying, broken - in the face and in the eye. That it's not so easy to condemn when you see acts of self-less human kindness from those who are unlike you - of whom you are initially suspicious and judgemental. This film doesn't pretend to say anything greater - or anything more fundamental or groundbreaking. And it does what it does so well. The acting is powerful, the script is excellent and spans 4 different languages and 4 different cultures with ease. It's well edited - and put together in a seemingly natural non-chronological order - not to make the plot twist at the end, or to be clever, but because it needed to be that way.

That's not to say the film didn't have its downsides - it wasn't quite a work of genius. This may seem trivial, but the musical score - an incessant Spanish guitar - started to grate after a while. It was too heavy handed. And the film probably stretched the point out for too long - although I can understand why all the scenes are in there, and why they're so long - the plot in each story just wasn't substantial enough to justify the running length, and nor were the almost incidental crossovers of the stories. And Brad Pitt looked like he thought he was doing some great community and social good by starring in a film that was mostly in foreign, and wouldn't be screened outside of Canada. Although his performance was good, if slightly 2-dimensional.

Furthermore, I didn't actually identify with any of the prejudices. I like Mexicans, and think they probably do most of the work in California. I don't think all Arabs are terrorists. And I so would have fucked the deaf-mute girl. In fact, thinking on it, what a sweet deal. How's she gonna complain if it's bad? Write me an email? Send me a fucking text message? Imagine it, boning a chick from behind, and suddenly a little scrawled out paper note appears on her back: "harder. and down a little" - class. And anyway, what'll she have to complain about? It's not like she's gonna hear me shouting out someone elses name*.

Having said all that - it was a very good film, and very worthy - it passed the time and it ought to have been made. And while I almost certainly won't be buying it on DVD and have no particular urge to see it again, because it wasn't substantial enough for a second watch, I do happily recommend it to anyone who likes a thinking and sensitive film. My fear is, of course, that this, as with most good art, is only going to be seen by people who already agree with its central points. Sadly the most prejudiced are often the most ignorant - and have little or no access or inclination towards good art, which this film represents. In other words, the people that this film was meant to challenge will be too busy seeing the latest shock flick, or masturbating at home to old episodes of Baywatch.

But all that said, it was a fitting end to the trilogy, and indeed a worthy close of the London Film Festival. And I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though the free popcorn they gave us was so ludicrously undersized. Thanks to Bina007 for the ticket, and thanks in advance to the
Royal Association for Deaf People for settling out of court.

*Could all complaints from disability associations or disable people please be directed to and not to Bina007, who does not endorse any of my jokes, however funny.

BABEL played Cannes, Toronto and London 2006. It opened in Denmark, Italy, Mexico, Sweden and the US last week. It opens in Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, wide in the US on November 10th. It opens in Belgium, France, Finland and Argentina later in November. BABEL opens in Spain, Germany and Australia in December and in the UK, Estonia, Latvia and Brazil in January 2007. It opens in Japan in March.


  1. I've nothing against the fella,but honestly,his reviews are one of the worst.

    the joke just ain't funny,man.

    please give him some less interesting movies to review,like chicken little or something-i was actually interested in what bina had to say about babel.

    seriously dude.learn to review,or post them somewhere else.

  2. @Amanda. Humour is a matter of taste. I happen to like Nik's jokes but more to the point he was covering while I was sick. On the substantive points I agree with him. BABEL is a beautifully, beautifully written and well-acted movie that tackles 21st century angst and neuroses. The problem is that those neuroses are not ones that I share. A movie like CHILDREN OF MEN taps into my fears in a more direct and effective manner. I came out of BABEL being impressed by the movie-making craft on display but it was not one of those movies that made a real impact of me - like, say, Michael Haneke's CACHE/HIDDEN.....

  3. I thought the joke was funny, go Nick! Could've been worse, I could've been reviewing it.

  4. Actually I liked the movie, two thumbs up. This movie has a strong political message, that from a stupid move of kids the american mass-media turned-up to talk about terrorism. Don't you get that you americans were brainwashed about terrorism lately? Have a deep thought about it.
    Another strong point shows how arrogant is the US border police, the way they treat people, people from a poorer world, the movie talks by itself.