Inarritu’s International breakthrough movie Amores Perres, was a startling and often uncomfortable look into the lives of modern day Mexicans. Broad in scope and daring in its themes, its multi-layered storyline came together near the end of the movie in a simple tragic accident. In it he clearly illustrated how interrelated our lives are beneath our individualistic focus of self-determination, relative wealth and cultural status. His next film, 21 Grams, successfully transferred this structure and themes to the USA. The poor and rich Mexicans being replaced with poor Latino’s and rich white Americans.
With Babel, Inarritu moves these same structures and themes to an even larger canvas, the community of the world. It has storylines set in the USA, Mexico, Morroco and bizarrely Japan. It has not travelled well. The grand perspective of international misunderstanding, and cultural miscommunication, paradoxically, make the interconnected aspects considerably weaker, to the point of being feeble. The visual flare is still present in the portrayal of all the stories, this film is very beautiful, and is at times astoundingly conceived. However, the extremely tenuous links between the stories, and the fact that the tragic event that links them, happens in the first half hour of the movie, makes it difficult to know exactly what is his point here. There is profound subject matter in abundance, but none of it hangs together much. The film roles on inexorable, creating a tense expectation that there will be some explanation or resolution to its glittering incoherence. This doesn’t happen.
Perhaps I have missed the point, maybe this is some Post Modern dissection of film narrative, or an ironic demonstration of the babbling of world cinema. I think not. Having done two movies with more or less the same film and narrative structure, doing a third version might indeed be stretching the point. Innarritu lessens the violence, diminishes the links between stories, and whips up a big canvas to paint on, in the hope you don’t notice he’s run out of things to say. If he dares to do this again, there will be an almighty critical backlash. You can only take your viewers for a ride once.
I can see why this movie is up for Oscars. It places Inarritu, and Mexican film generally, onto the International stage, big time. After last year’s success with the film Crash, films with worthy themes are in. The fact that blockbuster stars of the calibre of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett want a piece of the Inarritu action, shows the kudos involved. The movie is, however, like a large white elephant desperately flapping its pink fairy wings in the hope that it might fly. It sits undecided about whether to be an elegiac reflection on human nature, a stunning mood piece, or to take you on a roller coaster ride of great daring and bravado, its indecision unfortunately takes forever. This film was self indulgent with time if nothing else. It left me feeling sad and disheartened, but for all the wrong reasons.