I haven’t seen Babel yet, and won’t until at least next week, but I read two superb reviews this morning, and they have me fantastically intrigued.
What interests me in Babel is not so much that I think I’m going to like it — I did not particularly like Amores Peros, and very much disliked 21 Grams, the two previous collaborations between this screenwriter and director — but what it means on a larger scale, namely, as an example of a growing form of movie-making and storytelling.
First, there’s this from A. O. Scott’s marvelous review in the Times:
The splintered, jigsaw-puzzle structure of “Babel” will be familiar to viewers who have seen “Amores Perros” or “21 Grams,” the other two features Mr. Arriaga and Mr. González Iñárritu have made together. Indeed, this movie belongs to an increasingly common, as yet unnamed genre — “Crash” is perhaps the most prominent recent example — in which drama is created by the juxtaposition of distinct stories, rather than by the progress of a single narrative arc.
Perhaps the most common feature of movies of this kind is that they are more interested in fate than in psychology. The people in “Babel” behave irrationally — if often quite predictably — but any control they appear to have over their own lives is illusory. They suffer unequally and unfairly, paying disproportionately for their own mistakes and for the whims of chance and the laws of global capitalism.
Throw another movie I hated — Crash — into the mix. Then add this reflection from Andrew O’Hehir’s review in Salon:
It’s the kind of electrifying, almost ecstatic moment that reveals Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Amores Perros,” “21 Grams”) as one of the purest talents to emerge in this medium since Martin Scorsese. Beyond cinematic daring, the nightclub scene seems to reflect or capture, if only for an instant, the themes that González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga fumble with over the course of this sprawling two-hour-plus film. We are all connected, your experiences of joy and pain are closely akin to mine, but we can only pierce each other’s consciousness in fleeting, split-second increments.
Personally, I believe all that, or I think I do. But the risk that “Babel” takes, in laboriously and lovingly connecting the private tragedies of four families in four different countries, is turning that observation, which may be lovely as a momentary flash of insight, into a stoned college freshman’s profound theory about the universe. Tremendous resources have been expended here so that Cate Blanchett can lie on a dirt floor and moan, while we ponder why we can’t all get along, and whether we aren’t all the same under the skin.
I’ll leave it at that for now. Suffice to say I can’t wait to see Babel, and form a genuine opinion about all of this…