Film: Babel

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Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Distributor: Paramount

In Babel, a tragic incident involving an American couple in Morocco sparks a chain of events for four families in different countries throughout the world. In the struggle to overcome isolation, fear, and displacement, each character discovers that it is family that ultimately provides solace.

In the remote sands of the Moroccan desert, a rifle shot rings out—detonating a chain of events that will link an American tourist couple’s frantic struggle to survive, two Moroccan boys involved in an accidental crime, a nanny illegally crossing into Mexico with two American children, and a Japanese teen rebel whose father is sought by the police in Tokyo. Separated by clashing cultures and sprawling distances, each of these four disparate groups of people are nevertheless hurtling towards a shared destiny of isolation and grief. In the course of just a few days, they will each face the dizzying sensation of becoming profoundly lost - lost in the desert, lost to the world, lost to themselves - as they are pushed to the farthest edges of confusion and fear as well as to the very depths of connection and love.

In this mesmerizing, emotional film that was shot in three continents and four languages - and traverses both the deeply personal and the explosively political—acclaimed director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) explores with shattering realism the nature of the barriers that seem to separate humankind. In doing so, he evokes the ancient concept of Babel and questions its modern day implications: the mistaken identities, misunderstandings and missed chances for communication that—though often unseen—drive our contemporary lives. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Kôji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi lead an international ensemble of actors and non-professional actors from Morocco, Tijuana and Tokyo, who enrich Babel’s take on cultural diversity and enhance its powerful examination of the links and frontiers between and within us.


Brilliantly conceived, superbly directed, and beautifully acted, Babel is inarguably one of the best films of 2006. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his co-writer, Guillermo Arriaga (the two also collaborated on Amores Perros and 21 Grams) weave together the disparate strands of their story into a finely hewn fabric by focusing on what appear to be several equally incongruent characters: an American (Brad Pitt) touring Morocco with his wife (Cate Blanchett) become the focus of an international incident also involving a hardscrabble Moroccan farmer (Mustapha Rachidi) struggling to keep his two young sons in line and his family together. A San Diego nanny (Adriana Barraza), her employers absent, makes the disastrous decision to take their kids with her to a wedding in Mexico. And a deaf-mute Japanese teen (the extraordinary Rinko Kikuchi) deals with a relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho) and the world in general that’s been upended by the death of her mother. It is perhaps not surprising, or particularly original, that a gun is the device that ties these people together. Yet Babel isn’t merely about violence and its tragic consequences. It’s about communication, and especially the lack of it—both intercultural, raising issues like terrorism and immigration, and intracultural, as basic as husbands talking to their wives and parents understanding their children. Iñárritu’s command of his medium, sound and visual alike, is extraordinary; the camera work is by turns kinetic and restrained, the music always well matched to the scenes, the editing deft but not confusing, and the film (which clocks in at a lengthy 143 minutes) is filled with indelible moments. Many of those moments are also pretty stark and grim, and no will claim that all of this leads to a “happy” ending, but there is a sense of reconciliation, perhaps even resolution. “If You Want to be Understood…Listen,” goes the tagline. And if you want a movie that will leave you thinking, Babel is it. —Sam Graham

Barnes & Noble

A sweeping, ambitious drama that cuts a wide swath across ethnic, cultural, religious, and geographic lines, Babel presents its multilayered narrative through an interweaving quartet of plot threads. American tourists Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are vacationing in Morocco when an unexplained bullet pierces Susan’s shoulder. The slug has been fired accidentally by a goat herder’s son, who'd been given the rifle to hunt jackals preying on the flock. We ultimately learn how this relates to Tokyo businessman Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho), whose schoolgirl daughter, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), feels increasingly isolated by her deafness. Meanwhile, the Americans’ two children have been left in the care of their Mexican nanny, Amerlia (Adriana Barraza), who unintentionally places them in danger when she spirits them across the border so she can attend her son’s wedding outside Tijuana. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga (the creative team behind 21 Grams) deftly illustrate how quickly situations can spiral out of control when bad luck, misunderstanding, inaccurate information, and plain stupidity combine to create a full-scale crisis. By cutting from one plot to another we sense events racing forward unchecked; González Iñárritu keeps the viewer in a constant state of anxiety not unlike that being experienced by various characters. As richly rewarding as it is uncommonly demanding and emotionally wrenching, Babel is a shining example of contemporary film at its best and bravest. Ed Hulse

Related Works

Album:Babel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Babel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Gustavo Santaolalla

This soundtrack takes us on a journey with no beginning or end, with music that illuminates the film as well as the creative process behind it. “Gustavo found the musical and spiritual DNA of the film playing the oud with his sensitive fingertips, producing the mesmerizing sounds of the scored tracks in these CDs,” Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu says. “I hope when you listen you can feel the distant winds of the planet caressing your skin.”

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