tek's rating: ½

Babel (R)
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First of all, I should mention that this is the third film in director Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Death Trilogy," which I didn't know before I watched it. But, it's not that important. It's the type of thing where a director makes a few films which are in no way actually related to one another in terms of characters or anything... I mean, it's not a series in the sense of having a story that continues from film to film, as far as I know. (I've never actually seen the other two films in the trilogy, "Amores perros" and "21 Grams.") But, you know, sometimes an artist will make a series of films that each cover a certain theme. So, whatever, it might be nice to see the other films someday, but it isn't a prerequisite to seeing this film.

Anyway, "Babel" consists of four stories, set in different places. There is a certain connection between each story, however tenuous, though it should be noted that the events of each story do not happen concurrently, as one might expect from the way the movie frequently cuts between scenes (though I think everything that happens occurs within a week). In fact I was pretty sure early on that there was a slight difference in timing, at least between the Morocco story and the Mexico story, and this was confirmed at the end of the film. Anyway, the first scene is in Morocco, where a man named Abdullah buys a rifle from a guy named Hassan. Abdullah gives the rifle to his sons, Yussef and Ahmed, to kill jackals which have been preying on his goats. While the two of them are out in the hills, they test the rifle by shooting at a passing tourist bus. (I can't comprehend why they were this stupid, but I don't think it occurred to either of them that anyone would actually get hurt.)

And... from that point on, I'm not even going to try to remember the order in which scenes take place. But a bullet fired from the rifle hits Susan Jones (Cate Blanchett). She's travelling with her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt), and the two seem to be having some marital troubles, apparently related to the death of their infant third child. But of course, once she gets shot, all that becomes a good deal less important. There's no hospital nearby, so the bus detours to the village of Tazarine, where the tour guide, Anwar, is from, I guess. He seems to be the only person around who can translate for Richard. Meanwhile, the other tourists on the bus are impatient to get back where they were going, but Richard wants them to wait, in case the bus is needed to transport Susan somewhere. Richard spends a great deal of time worrying about his wife, and trying to get help from either the locals or the American embassy, but it's all very problematic, and the situation is complicated by the fact that the American government assumes the shooter was a terrorist.

After Yussef and Ahmed hear that an American woman had been killed (though this is an exaggeration of the truth), they worry about it. Oddly enough, the guilt over the incident seems no more troubling to them than the fact that one of them, I forget which, sometimes spies on a local girl when she undresses, which she seems to be aware of and not mind, though the boy keeps it a secret from his father. Meanwhile, the local police investigate the shooting, soon learning that the rifle was owned by Hassan, who they torture into revealing that he sold it to Abdullah.

Richard and Susan, by the way, live in San Diego. Their young children, Micah and Debbie (Elle Fanning), are cared for by a Mexican woman named Amelia. She was expecting someone else to be able to look after the kids for a time, as she has to go to Mexico to attend her son's wedding. But she isn't able to get anyone's help, so she decides, rather than miss the wedding, to take them with her. She gets a ride from her nephew, Santiago, who doesn't think it's a good idea to take them along, and at first the kids don't seem entirely happy, either. Though they soon start enjoying themselves, once they arrive. However, there are complications later, when Santiago is driving Amelia and the kids back to the United States.

Another story, which takes place in Japan, focuses on a teenage girl named Chieko Wataya (Rinko Kikuchi). The only connection to the other stories is that her father, Yasujiro, was once hunting in Morocco, where he gave his rifle to Hassan, who had served as his guide. Well, of course there's also the common theme of death, because Chieko's mother had killed herself. So Chieko has to deal with that trauma, in addition to being deaf-mute. She has a number of deaf friends, but she still feels like other people look at them all as monsters. She is also troubled by the fact that she's never had sex, and starts doing some very inappropriate things in an attempt to seduce various people, most notably a police detective who is looking for her father. She assumes he's investigating her mother's death, even though it had been like 9 months, I think, since any police had asked questions about that. However, they actually just wanted to ask him about the rifle used in the shooting in Morocco.

Anyway, very little in any of the stories ever reaches any kind of absolute resolution. Some bad, even tragic things happen in every case, but there's a certain degree of hopefulness, I think. Or not; certainly not much. I don't want to say anything about how anything ends, but it's not that important, really. The important thing is... well, I don't know, really. I can say I cared about all the characters, I sympathized with all of them. It's definitely a feel-bad film, I must say. But even so, I thought it was brilliant, all around. I very much doubt I'd ever want to watch it again, because it's very hard to watch. But I'm definitely glad to have seen it. And I dunno what else to say....

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