Babel has several great stories to tell. In Morocco a father entrusts his sons with a rifle to shoot the jackals that hunt his sheep. But boys being boys they soon start shooting at the top of a mountain to see how far the bullets travel. An American couple vacationing in the country to overcome a family tragedy end up on the wrong bus at the wrong time. In San Dieago a Mexican nanny must attend her son's wedding with he two young charges in tow. In Japan a deaf mute girl called Chieko desperately tries to gain love and acceptance after her mother's suicide. In true Iñárritu (Amoros Perros and 21 Grams) fashion the stories are woven together to create an entwined epic.
Even without it's biblically flavoured title Babel is obviously a film about words, communication, and disconnection. The viewer is presented with a mirage of languages: Japanese, English, Berber, Spanish, sign language, complete silence. The kids speak in fluent Spanish to their Nanny, Richard has his trusty interpreter at his side, the deaf girl relies on her pad and paper and video phone to communicate. It shows the damage that a lack of communication can have in relationships: husband and wife, father and daughter; between races: American and Hispanic, English and Muslim; between classes: the Moroccan police and the suffering locals. It shows how the press can communicate prejudice and political hyperbole within moments of a 'terrorist' attack, how popping a pill can for just a moment bring you together with your peers, how a single phone call can break your heart. Yet despite the array of different languages, the dialogue is minimal and is replaced by the steady drumbeat of exotic percussion music played throughout acting to draw the different stories together.
Babel is a powerful film that scores very highly in my books. The cast is solid (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal plus outstanding performances by lesser knows Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza); the soundtrack fits perfectly; the concept and imagery is tense, complex, and haunting. It is a film filled with tragedy and it won't leave you smiling, but its subtle plea for understanding at personal and international levels leaves you thinking hard. What use are words if no one can communicate?