Saturday, January 20, 2007

Babel and a Spanish Double

Babel: Rating 8/10
Director -- Alejandro González Iñárritu. Writer -- Guillermo Arriaga

Back in the summer of 2006, I really looked forward to this film. Having loved Amores Perros and 21 Grams, I had huge hopes for this movie. But after seeing the trailers, I had my doubts and stayed away from this film until this week. Now, only one theatre in the city is showing this movie and attendance has increased again thanks to the best picture award it got this week. But a lot of the people attending Thu night’s show (Jan 18) had no idea what to expect and safe to say, they were disappointed. There were even a few walk-outs.

This is a film that does not deserve to be seen in a multiplex because it demands complete silence. In a regular loud multiplex film, slight noises from the audience are dwarfed by the loud on screen volume. But Babel is not a loud film – it contains long periods of silence and very little dialogue. The visuals tell more of a story with subtitles conveying the rest of the story. With such periods of silences, every slight noise in the theatre can be heard – the chewing of the popcorn, an audience member dropping his pop on the floor, water running down the pipes in the adjoining bathroom, shuffling of feet. But even if I saw this film in complete silence, I still would have been disappointed. Here are some mental notes that flew threw my mind during this film:

-- Only the American couple in the film gets a happy American ending (something mentioned by the Japanese newscaster in the movie). The rest of the world is miserable and continues to suffer. In fact, other people have to suffer so that the Americans can prosper. Ofcourse, one could argue that the ending for the Japanese father-daughter finally has hope, but that is debatable.
-- The usage of multiple languages (Arabic, Spanish, Japanese and English) in this film works great because actors talking in their native language lend more authenticity.
-- My understanding was that the movie was supposed to show how the language barriers in the world led to confusion and caused problems (tower of babel). However, despite the multiple languages spoken in the movie, there are no language barriers in the characters way and I don’t think the film’s title is appropriate to the story.
-- The three stories are forcibly linked or appear to be. Amores Perros and 21 Grams felt more authentic. Can we now expect more of these Crash formula films in the future?
-- Great camera shots, especially the last shot of the Japanese girl and father. As they are hugging on their balcony, the camera moves away backwards and we slowly see the other buildings come into focus. Normally in other movies, the camera narrows into a single point as opposed to pulling away and displaying the wider background.
-- Guns kill people and guns in the hands of kids is a horrible formula. No matter what pro-gun people say. We only need to look at Central Africa for more examples.
-- As the world is more connected with cell phones and internet, fear and lies are easily propagated. In fact, media control in the hands of wrong people leads to incorrect news reports and conclusions. A single shooting in Morocco could have led to an American attack and eventual war. This is the present western attitude of shoot first, ask questions later.
-- One thing was interesting – in the end credits, we see the following:
“based on an original idea by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga “
What is that supposed to mean? Are the two trying to ensure no one tries to accuse them of stealing this story idea from a real incident?

Overall, I was hugely disappointed with this movie. Half-way through the 140 min movie, I told myself if I saw a shot of the clouded blue sky, I would know the director is trying too hard and sure enough, there is such a shot near the end of the movie. But I can’t understand why people call this film complex. Seriously, it is pretty straight forward. Yes, long periods of silence in movies allow us to contemplate each scene and think things through. But none of the stories in Babelare rich enough to require much thought. In addition, if the media reports are true then this is the last collaboration between Alejandro and Guillermo. That would be a real shame because they have had a good run together. Babel is the weakest of their three joint feature film efforts but still their powerful first two films were enough to warrant them attention.

Jealousy (1999, Spain, Director Vicente Aranda): Rating 7.5/10

It turns out that I had seen this film a few years ago, but I forgot when I rented this. It is a good watch nonetheless. A month before his marriage, Antonio discovers a picture of his bikini clad fiancée (Carmen) with a stud among a group of her friends. His jealous nature takes over him and he needs to find out who the stud is. And Antonio’s curiosity is only increased when all the people around him lie about the stud in the picture, After a brief break up with Carmen, the two make up and eventually marry. But Antonio is still not satisfied and his relentless pursuit of the truth drives Carmen mad. She is forced to reveal all to Antonio and after that, both of them need to get the stud, José, out of their system.

The film contains two very good expressive performances from Aitana Sánchez-Gijón (Carmen) & Daniel Giménez Cacho (Antonio). In fact, Daniel’s stern face and glaring eyes steal the show. There is an interesting camera angle when Carmen decides to tell Antonio the truth. We see her in the background but in the foreground, we only see Antonio’s left eye. Even with such an angled look at his face, we can clearly understand what is going on through his mind. But the story does start to wear down near the end and I had lost all interest by the final frame.

Lisbon (1999, Spain/Argentina, Director Antonio Hernández): Rating 6/10

Despite the presence of Sergi López and Carmen Maura, I could not be interested in this film. López plays a video cassette salesman who travels between Spain and Portugal. One day he finds a mysterious woman (played by Maura) who insists on being taken to Lisbon at whatever cost. In trying to help her, he finds himself in between her crazy family and her pursuit of her lover. An ok film with average acting but a short story stretched too long.


Reel Fanatic said...

I think Inarritu tacked that qualifier on the end of his movie because the idea came completely from screenwriter Arriaga, but the two have had a falling out since the movie was finished ... I think it's just Inarritu grabbing all the credit he can .. I liked Babel more than you, but the best movie I saw in 2006 was Chilren of Men

Sachin G. said...

Ok that makes sense as I have also read that as Arriaga was not happy with not getting credit for their parterships. Hopefully in the next week, I can Children of Men, Pan's Labrinyth and the Last King of Scotland (the last two movies only opened this week in my city).