Finite Focus: Grace Notes. (Babel)

Babel One SheetBabel is a film of moments. Much of them work quite well out of context of the film, in fact the very point of the film is local context vs. global context. This film has real texture amongst occasional bombast. Six or seven sequences all stand out as state of the art filmmaking. And while the film is more butterfly effect the the miscommunication implied by the title (although that is there to a lesser degree), things comes together in a quite sophisticated way – a sharp and edgy blend of melodrama and pathos that dwarfs attempts at such by several other filmmakers and or compilation projects. The film does this in a fairly crisp runtime to boot. In short, Babel was a difficult and ambitious project, a high-wire act carried off with much aplomb and even grace. It is arguably worthy of the oxymoronic label ‘modern classic’.

One of the chief confusions (is bafflements a word?) of the film that I gathered from various discussions (at the time of release) was the Japanese segment. Over the course of the film the other plot threads, an American tourist being shot, a Mexican wedding and fouled border crossing and a Moroccan incident with a rifle are all nice and obviously connected from the get go. But the segment in bustling Tokyo involving a deaf girl struggling with a domestically troubled past, a confused sexual present and a well-meaning, though overtaxed, father falls more along the not-so-up-front narrative lines of Alejandro González Iñárritu and Guillermo Arriaga‘s other two films (21 Grams and Amores Perros). This thread is somewhat of a mystery as to how it exactly fits together with the rest of the puzzle. Perhaps many got hung up on how the pieces fall together, particular this one, to notice exactly how many of the richer, more subtle elements are on display with actress Rinko Kikuchi and cult favourite Kôji Yakusho. From her vollyball game to the encounter with the dentist, to the pops-bar and open city vista in Tokyo; all of the busy experiences and confusions of modern culture and interaction are played out here. It is tour de force writing, directing and acting. As much as the rest of the film is great, this thread is the most compelling from a cinematic standpoint.

Now the obvious (perhaps even showboating) scene is when Kikuchi‘s character, Cheiko is strung out on E and taking in the dense audio-visual sensory overload (minus the sound in a first-person camera technique) night-club. Certainly this scene should not be experienced in somewhat limited YouTube clip, and rather experienced in as large a cinema as possible (and that goes for this entire film actually, and I’d argue, mainly for the sound element, which lends a little more credence (for my liking anyway) to the title of the film). Far more subtle, and rich however, is the silent bonding of father and daughter from mutual confusion, emotional blindsiding and melancholy. If there was ever a perfect soundtrack accompaniment to a scene, this is likely it (composer Gustavo Santaolalla rightfully won the award for this one, and Brokeback Mountain (another very memorable score) the year before). It is a beautiful way to close of a beautiful film.

Kurt Halfyard
Resident culture snob.


  1. There was a huge amount of people (fans AND critics) who really didn't like this film. I, myself, can't imagine why. From shot one it is clear that this is work of a filmmaker who knows what he's doing and is doing what he does fantastically. All of the acting is top-notch, especially the Kikuchi, as you said, and on a pure experience level it's one of the most affecting and memorable to date.

    The clip you provided was just a perfect way to end the film I thought (the way I felt afterward was reminiscent of Lost in Translation). Even though the lead up to it, the connecting of the Japanese storyline with the rest being as trivial as who's gun it was and who it was given to, wasn't as strongly connected as it possibly could have been. But that music and the accompanying "no dialogue" between the two characters says more than if the film ended with a speech or a voice over narration (as alot of films resort to).

    Tremendous film.

  2. This was my favourite film of 2006. I thought all of the segments were good enough to warrant feature length films on their own. Gael Garcia Bernal was the most memorable presence in the film for me after I left it, but I agree that the deaf girl was amazing. The scene where her friend comes to pick her up from the apartment is fantastic.

    One of the best movies of the 00s.

  3. On that point Henrik, you and I agree. Great film. My favorite scene is Pitt helping Blanchett take a piss in the bed pan. It's very touching in a slightly comical, frustrating and difficult way.

    And I think the woman who plays the Mexican nanny is pretty amazing as well.


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