Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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Film Festivals


Cannes Film Festival 2006: Babel is a babel of events

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu from Mexico clinched the Best Director’s Award for his “Babel” at the Cannes Film Festival (May 17-28 2006). Competing with 19 other movies, “Babel”, was a fascinating narrative that weaves together four stories in as many countries and three continents.

At first “Babel” seems like a bewildering run of reels. Each while appearing to be saying something got me a little restless. There is a deaf-mute Japanese girl in Tokyo grappling with the suicide of her mother. The girl’s father (Koji Yakusho) on an earlier trip to Morocco had gifted his hunting rifle to his guide, a Muslim farmer. He in turn sells it to his goat-herder friend, who hands the weapon to his two young sons asking them to use it to keep the jackals away. The boys try testing it to see how far the bullets will travel, and end up shooting and wounding a American tourist (Cate Blanchett) travelling in a bus with her husband (Brad Pitt). They are attempting to patch up their marriage after the death of a child. With the nearest hospital four hours away, the man is desperate to save his profusely bleeding wife. In the meantime, the couple’s two kids in the U.S. are being cared by their Mexican nanny, who takes them along to her son’s wedding in Mexico when she finds that there is none to take charge of the children.

Each of these stories have enough meat to excite a viewer: the Japanese girl’s silent world has been experimented with sheer novelty; the goat-herder’s dilemma, when he finds out about the shooting adventure of his sons, is built up to an emotional high-pitch; the nanny’s fear, frustration and helplessness when she and the children are lost in a desert produce a drama that is matched in intensity with what is happening in Morocco.

Ultimately, these incidents fit like a jigsaw puzzle to reveal an intelligent script. If the director had kept us a trifle uneasy and confused during a part of his work, he had a good reason to do so. “Babel” rises to a gripping level because of its suspense, and the way its several stories have been handled, seemingly independent of one another in the beginning.

I was also struck by another aspect of “Babel”. The kindness of total strangers, Muslims in this case, who help the couple tackle a serious medical crisis, and these people stand in contrast to the Western tourists in the bus who drive away from the scene selfishly fearing for their own lives after the shootout.

“Babel” in the end conveys the ability of humans to rise above tragedies, even while the picture explicitly explains to us the existence of emotional bonding in a world we feel is past caring for each other. I was particularly touched when the nanny on the verge of being deported back to Mexico tearfully tells the officer: “I have been with the children since they were born. I have watched them grow. This is a part of me. How can I live without this? ”

The shooting accident caused by the gifting of the gun brings the Japanese girl closer to her father, and the feelings for each other which both felt had died after the mother’s suicide are rekindled in a night scene on a rooftop when the stark naked girl embraces her father.

(Posted on this website on June 22 2006)