Monday, January 23, 2012

2006 - Babel

Well, that was an unexpectedly lengthy hiatus. Late December contained a fair bit of catering work for me, plus a new job that was initially intended to be part time, but somehow took over every waking moment of my life until this past weekend. The timing couldn't have been better, though, since tomorrow morning the Oscar nominations will be announced, allowing just enough time to get my predictions in order. If you're interested, here are my somewhat educated guesses as to which films will be cited by the Academy.

The Best Supporting Actor contest was by far the toughest to figure out. It could go a number of different ways. If I were braver, I would have backed Jim Broadbent to upset Jonah Hill by taking that final spot ... but I'm not brave. And keep in mind, the Best Picture category will have somewhere between five and ten nominees. I have listed ten predictions in order of nomination likelihood. I'll let the rest of the predictions speak for themselves for now, and over the next month, leading up to the ceremony, I'll discuss the race in more detail.

Meanwhile, to kick us off for the new year, we take a look at the first of 2006's Best Picture contenders...


Babel
Director:
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Screenplay:
Guillermo Arriaga
(based on an idea by Arriaga and  Iñárritu)
Starring:
Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Kôji Yakusho, Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi
Academy Awards:
7 nominations
1 win, for Best Original Score

With interconnected stories taking place across three continents in several languages, Babel is certainly diverse. In Morocco, a goat herder buys a rifle, giving it to his two young sons and instructing them to kill jackals. The boys test out the weapon's range by taking pot shots at a tour bus in the distance. Meanwhile, Richard (Pitt) and Susan (Blanchett) are vacationing in Morocco as a way to deal with the sudden death of their baby a few months ago. The trip is anything but healing, however, when Susan is unluckily shot in the shoulder while on the tour bus, the nearest hospital four hours away. In the USA, Amelia (Barraza), Richard's and Susan's nanny, is now left to take care of their two children despite needing to attend her own son's wedding in Mexico. After several unsuccessful attempts at finding someone to watch the kids, she has no option but to bring them across the border with her. In Japan, Chieko (Kikuchi), a troubled deaf-mute girl, is desperate for a sexual awakening. She is coping with the tragic suicide of her mother almost a year ago and a strained relationship with her father (Yakuhso), who, as it turns out, recently took a hunting trip to Morocco, gifting his rifle to his guide.

Babel is high-stakes drama at its most intense. From being stranded in remote Morocco without the necessary medical assistance to being stranded in the Southern Californian desert with two young children, the picture unfurls one life-changing (and life-threatening) scene after another. The urgency is conveyed expertly by the film makers, creating an edge-of-your-seat, involving cinematic experience.

In a way, all the major events that occur in the Morocco and US/Mexico stories might make Chieko's story seem frivolous. But far from being a tale of a young girl who just wants to get laid, hers is perhaps the most intimate exploration of the human condition since there is more time in her story thread to dig deep. She doesn't have the same urgent necessity that befalls the other characters in the film, who are often literally scrambling for their lives, yet her desperate need for male attention could be seen as her attempt, however misguided, to save herself from suffering the same fate as her mother.

The main theme of the film, as I see it, is the unfortunate lack of compassion we all have for other people's problems. The title seems to reference the Tower of Babel, the biblical story of how mankind was given myriad languages, thus preventing us from understanding each other. Yet in this story, language is ultimately not the barrier to understanding. While speaking different languages makes things more difficult, it's a problem easily overcome by translators (or notepads in the case of the deaf characters). The real obstacle to understanding is inconsideration. Each character is so caught up in his or her own issues that they are unable to see the problems of others, no matter how much more or less significant they may be. Despite their desperation to be understood, they rarely attempt to understand, often resulting in actions that merely blow situations unnecessarily out of proportion.

Shot on location in the four countries depicted, there is a genuineness to Babel, enhanced by the use of local actors, who are all simply amazing. Brad Pitt (pictured) delivers a superb performance in an intensely challenging role. But it was two supporting actresses who received Oscar nominations, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza, both deservedly cited for their excellent work.