Communication Failure on Three Continents

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FILM

[Babel] Communication Failure on Three Continents

THE DIRECTOR and the screenwriter of "Babel," the Golden Globe-winning Best Drama of 2006, have been feuding over who deserves credit for their trilogy of movies, which began with "Amores Perros" followed by the American arthouse melodrama "21 Grams." Is director Alejandro González Iñárritu the sole "auteur"? Or are he and writer Guillermo Arriaga the "auteurs"? Their spat culminated at Cannes, where the director banned the writer from attending "Babel's" screening.

Although the screenplay is more fundamental, directors get the publicity because their jobs are harder. The writer resembles a staff general, who draws up a battle plan on paper during the long years of peace, and the director a line general who must execute it in the fog of war. On the set, directors must make countless quick decisions because the budgetary burn rate sometimes exceeds $1,000 per minute.

"Babel," however, renders this debate academic because there is blame enough for both in this interminable Oscar-whoring ordeal. It's as contrived and implausible as last year's Best Picture, "Crash," but infinitely less entertaining. "Babel" is a compendium of all the mannerisms most irritating in contemporary prestige cinema

In its scenario's portentous, tragic stupidity-every single character in this glum epic that sprawls across three continents can be counted on to do whatever would be most moronic at the moment-"Babel" resembles an Ingmar Bergman remake of "Idiocracy."

Brad Pitt and Gate Blanchett play (with zero charisma) a California couple whose marriage has faltered after their third child died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. To patch up their relationship, Brad drags Gate to Morocco, although its swarms of beggars and touts make it a difficult destination even for honeymooners. Winston Churchill thought Marrakech "the most lovely spot in the whole world," but Morocco's charm eludes the Mexican filmmakers, who depict it as a mud-colored wasteland inhabited by unhygienic fools.

While Brad and Gate mope along in a tour bus through the bleak desert, two adolescent Berber goatherds on a nearby hilltop decide to try out their new rifle by-why not?-shooting at passing vehicles. The younger and more obnoxious brother drills Gate in the neck. Instead of having his bleeding wife rushed to the nearest city hospital, Pitt insists on being driven to a village of mud huts ten miles off the highway to await an ambulance. …