Friday, 2 March 2007

Babel, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu (2006)

In Genesis 11: 1-9 is the brief account of the earliest inhabitants of the earth, speaking one language, deciding to build a city and a tower in the region of Shinar. 'Let us make a name for ourselves, so that we do not get scattered all over the world'. When Yahweh saw their enterprise he wished to confuse their efforts and in turn scattered them all over the world. The word Babel (בָּבֶל), which would represent the place where this city was being built, is close to the Heb. word 'confuse' (בָּלַל, cf. the Gk. verb συγχέω, συνέχεεν). The tower of Babel is described by Dante in De vulgari eloquentia as a 'turris confusionis' (1. 6. 5), a tower of confusion, following Ugguccione's etymology. There isn't time now to discuss how very interesting is Dante's use of this myth in the DVE and his figuring and correlation of Florentine urbanism and Babelic hubris. However, Babel continues to exert all sorts of forces on the creative imagination today.

Alejandro González Iñárritu has directed an extremely interesting film in Babel. It is essentially about confusion, about how we really don't understand what we say to each other. The story weaves in and out of four groups of people. They all try to communicate but keep misunderstanding the language they should use. So the language of violence is expressed innocently by the boys shooting from a hill, testing their new rifle bought to kill jackals that attack their goats and the distance the bullets can reach. When the bullet hits Susan (Cate Blanchett), an American tourist travelling with her husband Richard (Brad Pitt), it is obviously interpreted as an act of terrorism. The state departments of Morocco and the USA in turn fight over whether it should be called terrorism or not, holding up medical aid for an excruciating length of time. Yussuf misunderstands the language of sex in spying on his sister, and indeed she does too by letting him watch her. Susan and Richard are grieving over the death of a child and it becomes clear that they, too, are speaking different languages to each other. Susan and Richard's two children, meanwhile, are being minded by their nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza), who takes them to her native Mexico for her son's wedding. On their way back with Santiago (Gael García Bernal) they are stopped by border police and are interpreted as nothing more than illegal immigrants. The rifle had been given to its vendor as a present by a successful Japanese businessman in gratitude. The Moroccan police wish to confirm this rifle had not been bought on the black market and so we follow the police to Tokyo where we find him grieving over his wife's suicide and his deaf daughter's increasing distance from him. She too is talking a language of loss, of frustration, of sex, as those around her resists her efforts at human contact. Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely extraordinary as the deaf daughter and she plumbs depths one hardly imagines possible. Her Oscar nomination was entirely deserved. The music, too, is wonderful and that Oscar was also deserved. (This is Gustavo Santaolalla's second Oscar, the first was in 2005 for the sublime soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain).

Babel is a moving film and it had me engrossed and involved. Some may say that it is a little long, but it may indeed be part of the point because the film is about frustration and distance. I recommend it.

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