The Red Right Hand
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BABEL
If You Want To Be Understood... Listen

Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring
Brad Pitt
Cate Blanchett
Adriana Barraza
Gael García Bernal
Kôji Yakusho
Rinko Kikuchi

In the first thirty minutes of this soon-to-be award winning drama I was shown a ten year old Moroccan boy masturbating, a chicken's head being twisted off, an American tourist get shot and a Japanese girl's vagina. Babel is an extremely ambitious project with interesting concepts and ideas but there are two or three major flaws that ruined the whole movie for me. The story is divided into three parts; the first is set in Morocco and shows two sides to a shooting incident - that of the couple shot at and the two farm boys playing with a rifle. The second follows a Mexican housekeeper, who crosses the border to be with her son on his wedding day, accompanied by the two blonde American children that she cares for and her crazy nephew. The final plot thread is the highlight of the entire film, telling the story of a deaf-mute Japanese girl, coping with the death of her Mother and the general struggles she has fitting in with other teenagers. Each story is meant to be connected in some way but in the end the only real connection lies with the first two stories (as the kids belong to the two American tourists), leaving the third act feeling separate and poorly attached. With so many characters operating on such a broad global spectrum, we are given a glimpse into their lives but not enough time to understand them.

The American couple [Pitt/Blanchett] are having an argument because Pitt left but that's all we really know, little light is shed on the reasons for their being there in the first place. An integral element to their story is the one that shows a small Moroccan family of goat-herders. Two boys are sent out with a newly acquired rifle to protect their herd from jackals. The eldest son is a bit of a weasel, whereas the younger one seems to be more pleasant. At one point they have an argument about Yussef [Boubker Ait El Caid] spying on some preteen girl while she bathes. The audience probably won't see anything wrong with a young boy being curious but it's not until much later that you realise that they are in fact brother and sister. You would think that would go somewhere but all it does is tarnish your opinions of the younger son, making it impossible to sympathise with either child. They scuffle, as brothers do, over who's the better shot and eventually challenge each other to hit passing cars. Convinced the bullets are worthless, they make their way back to the herd. A holiday bus comes to a stop, they hear screams, realise that something terrible has happened and peg it. The timeline is fragmented and the film's editing is done in such a way that you know what's going to happen. You see the bus get hit but you don't know it has anything to do with our ill-fated Americans, as their story starts shortly afterward. Oddly enough, these little twists seem to be either incredibly stupid or mocking the audience; by that I simply mean that they're so blatantly obvious, I couldn't see anybody not realising that Blanchett has been shot by the boys. The first story is a good example of the problems that run throughout; all the characters are conceited, self-centred jerks, most of the time you're engaged with the story but you don't really care what happens because you have absolutely no desire to see them happy. That may sound fairly harsh but even Blanchett, who spends the majority of the film lying, bleeding on the floor, is annoying; prior to the shooting she did nothing but complain about the conditions and want to fight with her husband - she may have had cause to but the lack of back-story asks the audience to take a large and unnecessary logic jump.

The acting is phenomenal on all levels, showing a gritty side to the human effect that current dramas lack but the overall feeling of an overly convoluted plot sullies anything on offer. I stated earlier that I believed this to be an award winning piece; I stand by that comment but not in a positive way. I feel this film's self-importance and general arrogance will dominate and confuse audiences into believing what they saw was masterful, when it was nothing more than a pretentious Oscar tout. Some elements were interesting to watch; the title's indication of the Christian belief that after the fall of the Tower of Babel, man’s ascendancy was stripped because of the division of language is an interesting concept but rarely explored as character interaction is only halted once by a language barrier. Working with the exact same pattern of his previous works, all Inarritu has done here is diminish his efforts and given birth to a rather pretentious slice of bilge that will prove popular at mindless dinner parties.

Release Date:
19th January 2007

The Scene To Look Out For:
Pitt's character, Richard, has just received word that the only ambulance in the village has been called off by the untrusting American embassy; fearing a terrorist attack, they would rather send a helicopter, a delay that will take an extra hour or two. It was just interesting to see how meaningless politics seem from the ground-level of experience.

Notable Characters:
True, this is an extremely flawed film but the performances are entrancing. The most impressive is that of Rinko Kikuci. Her portrayal of a frustrated deaf-mute wasn't particularly relevant to the story but it still offered a chance to see some amazing youth-drama.

Highlighted Quote:
"Please wait. The ambulance is going to be here in a minute. It's going to be here any minute, right? So, I'm asking you to please wait"

In A Few Words:
"Overly praised, unnecessarily multifarious but still bound to win a couple of awards"

Total Score:
5/10


Matthew Stogdon