Cine File: 'Babel' more than sum of its parts

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's new film is the latest addition to the interlocking-story movie trend.

November 2, 2006 14:14
3 minute read.
Cine File: 'Babel' more than sum of its parts

babel film 88. (photo credit: courtesy)

What had promised to be the year's most intense movie controversy - the debate over Death of a President, the highlight of which is a scene in which an actor with George W. Bush's face digitally superimposed over his own is murdered - seems to be fizzling out. It has opened commercially in a limited release in the US but seems to be provoking more yawns than outrage. Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post speaks for many critics when she calls the death scene "a crude stunt." But the most telling - and damning - criticism comes from the New York Post's Kyle Smith, who writes that "If this movie were about the murder of a fictional president, it wouldn't even earn a theatrical release." In spite of this withering assessment, the film did please one group - the International Critics, who gave the film their FIPRESCI Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, though it was most likely more a vote against the president than a vote in favor of the film. I'd guess these foreign critics would have had a field day if the film had been banned in the US; but since films don't get banned in the US, they'll have to find something else to be outraged about. GIVEN THIS LUKEWARM reaction in America, it's unlikely that Death of a President will inspire more political-assassination films; but one trend that seems to be on the rise is the interlocking-story movie. The latest and most prominent example of this is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Babel. The movie (which features Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal) won the Best Director Prize at Cannes. It features three main stories. In the first, a nomad father living in the Moroccan desert buys a new rifle and his children, playing with it, fire at a tour bus, injuring the Cate Blanchett character, who is married to Brad Pitt. They are meant to be two urban professionals who happen to be in this unlikely spot on an exotic vacation to recover from the crib death of their baby. I haven't seen the film yet, but this brief synopsis already raises a red flag: Have you ever heard of yuppies taking a bus tour, even to the most remote, dangerous spots? In any case, Pitt tries to get his wife competent medical help, while their Mexican nanny in California takes their two older children across the border to a family wedding in a car driven by her young, irresponsible nephew (Gael Garcia Bernal). In a story not connected to the other two until the very end, a deaf Japanese girl, ignored by her wealthy parents, carries on Internet and real sexual explorations with a number of men. Critics have been divided, but mainly positive. Like Inarritu's earlier films - the audacious and entertaining Amores Perros, made in his native Mexico, and the less successful but intermittently moving 21 Grams, which was in English and starred Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, both of which followed the interlocking-but-apparently-unrelated stories format - Babel may be more than the sum of its parts. A. O. Scott, in The New York Times, writes: "That the film possesses unusual aesthetic force strikes me as undeniable, but its power does not seem to be tethered to any coherent idea or narrative logic. You can feel it without ever quite believing it." It is possible, however, to become absorbed in and enjoy movies that are not entirely believable. Maybe, while watching it, you just figure, "These are the first yuppies to take a bus tour in 30 years," and then forget about it. It's set to open in Israel soon and will likely get quite a few Oscar nominations. THERE ARE STILL a few Israeli movies from the Jerusalem Film Festival that should be hitting theaters soon, including Dina Zvi-Riklis' Three Mothers, which stars Gila Almagor, Miri Mesika and Tali Sharon in a story of female triplets born to a Jewish family in Alexandria who move to Israel. The film follows parallel stories of the girls in their twenties and then in their sixties. Pop star Mesika is a real standout; her screen presence should guarantee her a second career. Assi Dayan may have mumbled incoherently at the Ophir Awards in September, but his performance in Yuval Sharman's Things Behind the Sun as the insecure father of a dysfunctional family drew raves and won him the Best Actor Ophir Award.

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