Thursday, January 04, 2007

babel

The time has come to talk of Brad Pitt, and significantly, how indifferent I am to him. I liked him in Fight Club, but everyone else in that film was better than he. I hated him in Troy, but I hated everyone else in that one, with the possible exception of Eric Bana (who is, hello, no extreme thespian, but brunet wins versus blond every time in my opinion – and in my opinion, Troy was principally, perhaps solely, noteworthy for the hairdos.) Watching Le Pitt cry into a telephone at the end of Babel left me utterly unmoved. I realise he wasn’t cast for his dramatic abilities, but watching the aforementioned Bana, for example, in a similar scene in Munich, face crumpling as he talks to his daughter on the phone, was utterly moving in a way that Pitt, even with the help of a rough-greybeard-hiker look and a thoroughly harrowing storyline behind him, was not.

Discount all my opinions on film henceforth, for I am a sucker for Spielbergian manipulation? Eh, maybe. I didn’t like Babel. I liked some of the craft – the muted bleakness of landscapes as diverse as rural Morocco and Tokyo is lovely and very horrifying – and the subtitles (because subtitles are love) but on the whole, no cookie. There’s an abundance of ambition in this film, which alone rates it above single-point-agenda, tab-A-slot-B storytelling à la Crash. Oh my god, Babel is the least tab-A-slot-B film ever. It’s exciting in theory. But it turns out that being swung like a pendulum between extremes of sheer boredom and mindless terror leave one feeling not so much depleted as cheated. I don’t believe I’m ready for a post-Aristotelian disavowal of catharsis just yet. Is it too trite to expect art to make sense of life, especially in a film that is about the breakdown of communication?

Let me take a step back. There are four bewitching stories in the film, each one fully-developed and for the most part, beautifully acted. There isn’t disorientation so much as wonder at the way we swing from a Moroccan goatherd’s hut to a soap-opera American suburban home to hotspots in Tokyo. There’s also a Mexican wedding. (I need to emphasize the existence of the Mexican wedding. And Adriana Barraza and Gael García Bernal.) And nannies cry. Young men are foolish. Flies buzz. Children masturbate. Lives are caught in the process of destruction.

It’s a vast canvas, full of disparate strands. A Big Film is a choice that nine out of ten filmmakers with skill and craft and two braincells to rub together would make when presented with the notion of making a film about the barriers of language. So many other aspects spring to life when you look at the problem: culture, politics, economics. I don’t get it, though: why these four stories? Why subtitles? The multiplicity of languages is the whim of an irate god (sidenote: for moral lessons about man’s arrogance, we should all stick with the Greeks) in the biblical Babel story. These distances are really no one’s fault. I’ve known my grandmother all my life but I can’t understand a word she says anymore because Parkinson’s has impaired her speech so badly. Civilisation fails us in these small ways every day of our lives, and there’s no pattern to it, no sense. Perhaps it is merely my holiday mood talking, but shouldn’t cinema, I don’t know, grapple with these problems a little more? Babel just wasn’t confrontational enough for me. And the ideas fell short of the frame.

It was resonant in parts, most so in the story of Chieko, the deaf girl – which also gave me the creeps because I couldn’t turn off my wariness of male obsession with Japanese schoolgirls in time. (I know if you’ve read any other review of the film you will have heard oodles about how brilliant Rinko Kikuchi, the actor playing Chieko, is. So let me submit, merely for the record: I think Rinko Kikuchi is pretty fracking brilliant.) But after fraying my nerves with each passing hour, it came down to me being unmoved by the plight of Le Pitt on the phone with his son. And hoping that Alfonso Cuarón has actually done better with Children of Men.

Unrelated footnote: I miss a hi-speed Internet connection like the deserts miss the rain. Also, please never get a pedicure in Bombay unless you can get your pedicurist to bind your feet in impenetrable plastic wrap before you step out of the salon. One sets oneself up for heartbreak any other way.

10 comments:

  1. Finally someones who agrees with me.

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  2. hmmm....we really need to find some stuff to disagree on! :P
    Pitt does nothing for me either. I greatly disliked Troy. Except Peter O' Toole who can do almost no wrong in my book (except that he was In Caligula). Apparently he walked out of the first screening of Troy saying it was crap. Sigh, British thespians. Haven't seen Babel yet though....will probably just watch it on a cd.

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  3. Haven't seen the movie. After this, not sure if I will.

    btw....The obsession with Japanese school girls is more of a Hollywood thing :) Have to agree it is a little creepy

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  4. I totally agree. Too pretentious and ambitious. Didn't like it at all. On the other hand, I think 21 gram was great. Cheers

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  5. Are you mourning?

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070106/ap_on_bi_ge/obit_ando

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  6. I will respectfully disagree. While I agree with your assessment of Brad Pitt's acting prowess (or lack of it) and even the particular scene (esp. in comparison with the moment from Munich) Babel was for me a harrowing experience. Your problem with the film, and correct me if I'm wrong, seems to me to be that it doesn't attempt to make sense of why we mis-communicate... but for me, the non-attempt at addressing the whys is what made it so powerful.

    On a shallower (and totally inconsequential note) I notice you said frack. I squeed reading that, I guess you're a BSG fan? What do you think of the current season?

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  7. @ tanushree: somewhere, a star is born!

    @ szerelem: gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah, woman. we need to move in together and paper our home with the mugs of men we adore. we can use the brad pitt wallpaper for the dartboard. :)

    @ one more reason: 'babel' is as hollywood as 'kill bill,' for sure. but don't let my post have kept you from it - by all means, go ahead and sit through it. let it turn your eye inwards. reflect on life. oh, and rinko kikuchi. and gael garcia bernal, bless him, and adriana barraza.

    @ mercedes: i keep meaning to watch that one and 'amores perros.' someday.

    @ unratiosenatic: i ... the words, they fail me. oh, ando-san.

    *miserably eats veggie cup o' noodles in memoriam*

    @ yamini: haha, no, but i have friends who do. one of them used 'fracked-up' in relation to jose mourinho and i have been using it ever since.

    i think the lack of 'troubleshooting' in the film would not have bothered me so much if thought the whole subject was adequately worthy of the long, involved, dramatic-tragic treatment it got. it ended and i thought, 'i'd ask you to tell me more if i was sure you wouldn't fray my nerves with more of the lingering and the meandering and the mad running from tree to shining tree.' mah. respectful disagreement = good.

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  8. Hehe, fracked-up Jose Mourinho. Truer words have never been spoken.

    And I realised, after commenting, if we all respectfully disagreed, Innaritu would have no film to make.

    And also: Gael Garcia Bernal was criminally underused.

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  9. Saw it (and ranted about it). I think you've been too kind. It pissed me off more than anything else.

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  10. i saw the movie .
    why are ppl gaga over the japanese girl? she did an average job .

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