Of the crop of modern multi-plotted films (“Magnolia,” “Syriana,” “Crash”), “Babel” is probably the most comprehensible, which is ironic, considering its title reference to the legendary Biblical communication breakdown. But the interweaving stories of four families in different countries miraculously come together in emotionally devastating, yet life-affirming ways.
Produced and directed by Alexandro González Iñárritu (“21 Grams”) from a script by his longtime collaborator Guillermo Arriga, “Babel” begins with Moroccan family receiving a gun for a goat to protect their herd from jackals. The rifle, which was a gift to the gungiver from Japanese hunter Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) for guide work, is put into the hands of two adolescent brothers, Ahmed (Said Tarchani) and Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) to guard the goats.
A big mistake.
Rather than shoot jackals, they take target practice at a bus full of American tourists. The better shot, Yussef hits Susan (Cate Blanchett), who is vacationing with husband Richard (Brad Pitt) after the loss of a child. Meanwhile, back home in San Diego, their existing two children are surreptitiously whisked away to Mexico by maid Amelia (Adriana Barraza), desperate not to miss her son’s wedding.
And there’s another story. This one’s in Tokyo, following a teen sex-drugsand depression odyssey of deaf-mute Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), the daughter of the Japanese hunter Yasujiro. His wife and her mother has recently committed suicide, possibly with the very rifle that is causing all the trouble in Morocco. In fact, the bus shooting has been turned into an international incident as the media falsely publicizes it as an outbreak of terrorism. The media frenzy and resulting political backlash only add to Richard’s difficulties in securing an ambulance for Susan, who is bleeding to death in a remote village.
Brilliant in its conception and execution, “Babel” is always fascinating, but often tough going for viewers more comfortable with linear storytelling. Because the gun connection is introduced late in the film, Chieko’s tale seems to be in its own orbit. It features an inventive sequence, depicting her drugged and deaf point of view in a wild party-hearty disco.
However, the acting (particularly from Kikuchi and Barraza) is exceptional, accentuating the almost unbearable heartbreak derived from ripple effect of bad choices in seemingly unrelated locales.
Don’t miss “Babel.” If “Crash” scored best picture at last year’s Oscars, it’s likely that “Babel” will as well.