Babel is Alejandro González Iñárritu's most recent directorial venture after 21 grams. For those who saw the earlier film and were impressed by the non-linear narration, Babel takes the technique forward, and with greater technical finesse. Babel is a dark tale that looks into three separate stories which are interconnected by very slender threads.
Richard (Brad Pitt) and Susan (Cate Blanchett) are an American couple traveling Morocco in a rickety bus to get over a past trauma in their relationship (the death of their little son). As the bus meanders its way through the parched terrain, a stray bullet, seemingly appearing from nowhere, hits Susan below the neck. This sets in motion a trail of events, involving international governments and conspiracies of terrorist plots. Turns out the bullet was fired by two local boys, sons of a goatskin trader, to check the efficacy of a newly bought rifle. It is the mundaneness of personal tragedy which is wonderfully captured by Iñárritu. As Richard and Susan's private grief threatens to drown in the din of media and diplomacy, they are able to reconnect in a remote Moroccan village, aided by a man who has no relation to them.
The second strand in Babel is about Amelia (Adriana Barraza), a caretaker to Richard and Susan's kids, Debbie and Mike. On the day of Susan's accident, Amelia is to attend her son's wedding in Mexico, but is put in a spot by Richard's frantic call asking her to stay longer. Finding no other recourse for the children, she decides to hop them in for the wedding. The wedding is the only duration of the film when nothing untoward happens, yet the dramatic intensity of the other sequences is so high that one watches with dread as Iñárritu takes slow motion shots of the dancing party. That, however, is where the revelry ends, and what follows is a nightmarish montage of events that ends with Amelia's deportation to Mexico for good.
The third sequence is about Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Japanese deaf-mute teenager trying to make sense of a life swarming with vacuous friends and the memory of a dead mother. Chieko's father, a former hunter, was the owner of the gun that shoots Susan, but this detail has no relevance to Chieko's story. Filled with self-loathing over her handicap, Chieko tries desperately to find a partner with whom she can share physical intimacy, only to be shortchanged every time. Until a police official comes calling about her father's gun and Chieko propositions him--stark naked, a bereft look filling her eyes. What happens next is a study in the power of great stories to redeem not just their characters but those on the fringes, yet not--the viewers.
Babel is a cry for cross-cultural understanding. Like the original Biblical tale in which God confounds the makers of the Tower by mixing up their dialects so they would not understand one another, Iñárritu's film is a cautionary look at where our world is headed. Asking for sympathy and cross-cultural bonding, Babel forces one to rethink their assumptions about weapons and terror and the otherness of the other, without getting preachy. An unsurpassable achievement, it is a must-watch for lovers of cinema. Also for those who are willing to be converted by it!