Friday, January 05, 2007

Babbling about Babel

I am of two minds regarding Babel. Part of me wants to praise its seriousness and ambition. Another part of me wanted to scream at it for being so forcefully and needlessly depressing.

I was truly impressed (for the most part) with the film's performances, cinematography, editing, and music, and I appreciated the global nature of the story. Adriana Barazza in particular gives a beautifully lived-in turn, and I'm a sucker for Santaolalla. Overall, I found the film quite moving. But I have to ask (SPOILERS):

Would any little kids REALLY shoot bullets at a bus so unthinkingly?

Would any good housekeeper REALLY take kids out of the country without their parents' permission AND THEN drive back into the country with someone who'd been drinking, and who clearly has a short fuse?

Would said person REALLY speed away from border patrollers, and with kids in the car? I mean, hello, stupid.

Would a deaf-mute Japanese girl REALLY go around flashing her dentist and other strangers, just because she felt lonely?

And also, was I missing something about the balcony thing at the end? I might just be stupid, but why did Rinko tell a story different from what actually happened? I hope it wasn't just so the film could close on that shot of the skyline.

Anyway, some of these questions are really too difficult to ignore. I'm generally one for allowing huge coincidences in films - I had no problem with the sequence of "oh sheesh" problems encountered by the Little Miss Sunshine gang - but I am given pause when so many characters make such unfathomably stupid decisions. Coincidental is one thing; impossibly stupid is another. And when people behave that stupidly, it makes it hard for me to sympathize with them.

That said, the actors generally did such a great job carrying it off that it wasn't that big of a problem. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett's lack of chemistry aside, the cast as a whole did a great job. Which is why I think the film largely worked.

Still, I didn't feel the kind of catharsis that would've made the trip to hell and back totally worth it, so it's hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend this one, much less call it a "great film." Others may love it and think it award-worthy, and I take no issue with that; it is serious, ambitious, and well-made. But I saw enough flaws and felt distant enough from the characters to think Babel merely "pretty good."

Verdict: "Sober and serious... to a fault."

3 Comments:

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4:13 PM  
Blogger Kamikaze Camel said...

Ugh I know. When I walked out of it I didn't think "That was bad", I felt positiveish towards it, but there are waaaaay too many flaws to just forgive.

My biggest complaint is the Inaritu just extended himself way too far. Did we really need FOUR stories? And not one of them had a final act. What happened to these characters once all the pain was over (I speak of the physical pain that Inaritu thrusts onto them, not the emotional pain that would follow and that would actually round out the characters and give them all something to work with).

I truly think, of the main performers, only Rinko Kikuchi had anything to do. The rest just sat around screaming or doing nothing of any interest. I "got" her character, whereas the others it was like "where are they going with this?"

And the whole balcony story was, i believe, her telling the cop about her plan to kill herself by jumping off the balcony and that the letter she gave him was a suicide letter of some sort. But I may be wrong. Of course, I don't know if she actually did kill herself because ALL THE STORIES ENDED BEFORE THE THIRD ACT. Ugh.


...but then there are some big pluses that make me resist giving it any worse than a C+.

8:21 AM  
Blogger adam k. said...

Yeah, I actually wanted to give it a B. It seems so well done at first that it takes a little while before you're like, "wait, but..."

I guess Rinko is the only one who had a problem entirely beyond her control, so in that sense she was the most sympathetic. But I still couldn't really buy her outrageous behavior, and also her story had nothing to do with the others and kinda seemed tacked on. I liked how it was such a conterpoint to the others, but they could've found a better way for it to connect, IMO. And your idea about the balcony thing is moving but still doesn't really make sense. It's kind of reaching.

Your thing about none of the characters having resolution was something I didn't even think about. I guess I thought that was sorta the point - "insert your own resolution." But it was pretty unsatisfying.

Still, sometimes, I feel like my gripes don't really add up to much, and that the film's actually really good. It's mostly the stupid decisions that bug me. I mean, just don't shoot at buses and don't speed away from cops, and you'll be fine. I didn't need a movie to tell me that.

12:51 PM  

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