**** out of *****
“Babel” is a film about the interconnectedness of humanity despite the fact that we are divided by culture, geographical borders and, most especially, language.
This is a bold film with its four non-chronological, interrelated stories, its strong performances from Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Rinko Kikuchi and its thematic aspirations for revealing the lack of and potential for human communication.
I admired “Babel” for all of these reasons, and yet I felt strangely ambivalent at its end.
Though the film features several emotionally harrowing scenes, it doesn’t pack cathartic wallop I expected, and I think part of this has to do with how the film never seems to cohere into something greater than the sum of its parts.
The stories of “Babel” start out innocently enough.
There’s Richard and Susan (Pitt and Blanchett), an American couple on vacation in Morocco hoping to get over the death of their young son.
There’s Amelia (Adriana Barraza), the nanny for Richard and Susan’s two children, who decides to take the children with her to Mexico to see her son’s wedding, after being unable to obtain someone else to watch the kids.
There’s Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid), competitive siblings with a brand-new rifle to help them tend their family’s goat herds in Morocco.
And finally, there’s Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute Japanese girl who has a day of heedless adolescent partying in Tokyo with her friends.
All of these stories begin to tragically unravel, however, when Susan is accidentally shot in the neck while on a tour bus.
Like two of its Best Picture Oscar rivals (“The Departed” and “Little Miss Sunshine”), “Babel” boasts superb performances from an ensemble cast that is as wide-ranging as the film’s stories.
Pitt and Blanchett are excellent together, allowing the audience to grasp their characters’ complex history through revealing moments like when Susan tells Richard that he has to look after their children if she dies. That Richard has to be told something that seems so fundamental exposes a great deal about his character.
But the film’s most searing and memorable performance undeniably belongs to Kikuchi, who instills Chieko with a brazen adolescent cockiness that is a cover for her deeply-tormented emotions.
Chieko also embodies the film’s theme of disconnection since being a deaf-mute cuts her off from everyone around her, all of which culminates in a dizzying scene at a dance club where the sound disappears, and the audience is able to grasp, for a few seconds, what it must feel like for Chieko.
However, despite this bevy of great performances, it is the stories that comprise “Babel” that ultimately derail the film. Despite being connected both literally and thematically, the four stories of the film never quite harmonize, rendering “Babel” a compelling, though slightly discordant, achievement.
Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.