Magazine article The Spectator

Suffering Together

Magazine article The Spectator

Suffering Together

Article excerpt

Babel 15, Nationwide

In the remote sands of the Moroccan desert, a rifle shot -- bang! -- rings out, detonating a chain of events that will, after two-and-half bladder-tormenting hours, link an American tourist couple's bloodsoaked fight for survival, two Moroccan boys involved in an accidental crime, a nanny illegally crossing into Mexico with two American children and a Japanese, deaf-mute teenager who doesn't wear knickers and is in need of both sexual and emotional release. Quite a significant rifle shot, then? Oh, yes. And, boy, are we not allowed to forget it.

Babel is a multiple-stories-over-shiftingtime kind of film, rather like last year's Crash, except that Crash had something very particular to say that might have been rather brave whereas this film doesn't appear to say much at all. Or, if it does, it doesn't say it adequately or with any sort of oomph. This may or may not be ironic considering that, if the film's title is anything to go by, it is meant to in some way be about human communication. The separate stories are fine in and of themselves but they never achieve a satisfactory or even revelatory sum. I've never, by the way, been entirely sold on the whole Tower of Babel tale. Why did God get so furious when humanity tried to build a tower that would reach the heavens? Did he imagine it would get there? That he'd be disturbed on his afternoon off, when he'd just made himself a cup of tea and was settling down to his Sudoko? There are some things that don't bear particularly close inspection, and this film may be one of them.

I know, I know, Babel recently won 'best film' at the Golden Globe awards and I can kind of see why. It certainly treats itself as big and important, which can be beguiling, I suppose, and unlike a lot of the pap out there, it is grown-up in its scope and ambition, if pretentiously so.

Further, the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros) can absolutely direct. There are some wonderfully caught landscapes -- the parched Mexican desert; the disco-throb of an everlit Tokyo; the rocky, remoteness of the Moroccan mountains -- and some wonderfully caught moments, like the one where Chieko, the Japanese girl, suddenly licks her dentist's face. It's quite shocking and quite extraordinary. …

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