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COVER ILLUSTRATION BY Paul Willoughby WORDS BY Matt Bochenski
“KILL ME, BUT SAVE MY BROTHER. HE DID NOTHING.”
DIRECTED BY Alejandro González Iñárritu STARRING Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael García Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi
RELEASED January 5
Four continents, multiple tragedies, one vision. In Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu has made the finest, and angriest, film of his career.
“Come, let us make a city and a tower, the top whereof may reach to heaven. And let us make our name famous before we be scattered abroad into all lands.”
In Genesis, the children of Adam get a righteous slapping for their act of God-bothering hubris. Just so, two films in to a rocket-powered career, Alejandro González Iñárritu finds himself perched atop a mountain of awards, just about ripe for a good old-fashioned critical smiting. There’s one problem: Babel is an eloquent deconstruction of modern times that defies almost any label or category save ‘genius’.
006 THE BABEL ISSUE
Alongside regular collaborator Guillermo Arriaga, Iñárritu is no stranger to fractured stories and broken lives. Both Amores Perros and 21 Grams traded in narrative and emotional acrobatics, and at first glance Babel is covering similarly artful ground. Don’t be misled. Where Amores Perros was experimental and exuberant, and 21 Grams was a muscular tussle between the fleetness of its structure and Sean Penn’s
gravitational pull, Babel has an altogether different feel. At a time when almost every studio is thinking in trilogies, Babel is a film that illuminates and enriches Iñárritu’s previous work because it feels less like a conclusion than a culmination. In its dexterity, its sophistication and certainly in its sense of moral outrage, Babel is by far the most important work of Iñárritu’s career. ▼
In Morocco, slate skies kissed by barren mountains lend the landscape an oppressive magnitude. Everything is endless, depthless and ancient, especially the people. In a tiny village a Berber with a face like chasms carved on leather and fathomless black eyes trades a hunting rifle for a goat. On the tourist trail to Tazarine a coach winds through the valley, selling pre-packaged parts of the country’s culture, fit for consumption like bottled water. Richard and Susan stare at the space between them, as frozen as the ice that Susan won’t drink – fearful and bitter, as lost right there as later, after that ice is shattered by the crack of the rifle. In Mexico, a housekeeper approaches the US border with her nephew and two American children, returning to their home in San Diego. They are stopped and searched – an everyday act of humiliation that accretes like dirt beneath the skin. In Tokyo, in the raucous mayhem of that high-tech metropolis, Chieko is cocooned in silence – a deaf-mute searching for a language that she can only find physically.
From this tangled web emerges a narrative at once humbling in focus and breathtaking in scope.
It’s about grief, love and loneliness, about the choices we make every day – to fear, to hate, to distrust – and the consequences that stretch beyond imagining. But more than that, these personal tragedies are a patchwork – individual skeins which, taken together, form the global narrative of the war on terror. While deft and elegant, Babel is thunderously political, painting a picture of a world in which some of us are victims of accidents, but all of us are victims of the systematic cultural violence enshrined in the tenets of Western imperialism. ▼
Five years after the declaration of war, filmmakers have finally found the courage to engage with its consequences. But it’s taken two Mexicans – two immigrants on American soil – to express what the Americans themselves couldn’t see; that it wasn’t 9/11 that changed the world, it was America’s response to it. In a film about the differences between language and communication, words are imbued with new power and meaning. In its evocation of terrorism, a word that costs an innocent Moroccan child his life, a word whose brutalising effect leaves a trail of fear and violence across cultures and continents, Babel is about the most powerful and the least meaningful of them all.
The film’s thematic power is of a piece with its stunning composition.
Iñárritu described the process of shooting in three disparate countries, often with non-professional actors, as “method execution”. Photographed by Rodrigo Prieto (who shot both of Iñárritu’s previous films, as well as Brokeback Mountain), each landscape is represented by subtle differences in texture and grain. But it goes deeper. Iñárritu took an “observe and absorb” approach to shooting his disparate locations and the result is not just a singular story told from multiple perspectives (though Babel is that), but three quite separate stories altogether, three different genres almost, each quite brilliant in its own right. In the starched scrub of Morocco, a claustrophobic marital drama evolves into an expansive polemic. Caked in dust and dirt, Pitt and Blanchett seem to seep into their surroundings. While Brad Pitt may not have undergone a physical transformation exactly, he looks every one of his 43 years, and more: there are grey flecks to the beard and crows’ feet reach out from his eyes like trees taking root. Iñárritu knows exactly what he has with Pitt, and exactly what to do with him; he breaks him, and suddenly those famous, flawless features disappear in an avalanche of grief. It’s Blanchett, dying on the floor of a squalid hut, who carries the weight of the film’s emotional metaphors – power and helplessness, the illusion of safety, but it’s Pitt who represents the betrayal of trust. The other tourists on the coach eventually abandon them in the village, terrified by the breakdown of comfortable boundaries, fearful of the too-real life to which they’ve been exposed. In their wake, Pitt’s “thank you” to the local guide who has stayed with him is a moment of quiet significance.
010 THE BABEL ISSUE
Returning home, Iñárritu shoots Mexico and the Sonoran desert as a rebuke to the racist-romantic myth-making of John Ford and The Alamo, powered by the feral intensity of Gael García Bernal. The border is a place of bleak, dehumanising nihilism, but Mexico itself is an undiscovered country, seen through the eyes of the American children. At first they echo the fears of their parents, but, uncorrupted by cynicism, they see past the unfamiliar and the superficial to the people beneath. But the most distinct of these three films is Iñárritu’s Tokyo story – a superbly crafted study of dislocation; intimate, jarring, wild and stylised. As Chieko, Rinko Kikuchi gives a performance of heartbreaking honesty, stripped raw, inside and out, the depth of her emotional void sharply contrasting with the tiny frame of her naked body. To her, as to us, Tokyo is a city of blinking lights and alien noises so fast-paced, so hooked-up as to be every bit as impenetrable as a North African village. But even here, in the
techno temple of the communication age, language and intimacy have a flawed and uncertain meaning. At first Rinko lashes out with the only unambiguous expression she has – herself, her own availability. But Iñárritu will break her too, and when he does, under the flashing strobes of a Tokyo club, it’s one of the very best scenes committed to film this year. In as much as it bears comparison to its contemporaries, think of Babel as Crash without the sanctimony, or The Constant Gardener without the sermonising. But think of it as more than that as well. It’s a film of extraordinary subtlety as much as it’s a film of righteous anger. Yes, it’s structurally familiar, but, really, there hasn’t been a film like Babel for years. Not from Iñárritu. Not from anybody Turn to page 32 for an exclusive interview with Alejandro González Iñárritu and Gael García Bernal.
Anticipation. A winner at Cannes, but whispers suggested that Iñárritu had failed to move on from his ﬁrst two ﬁlms. Four Enjoyment.
Absorbing, powerful, evocative and emotional, Babel is gripping ﬁlmmaking. An utter, unqualiﬁed triumph. Five
Does it have ﬂaws? Well, there weren’t many good jokes. Doesn’t matter. Five
“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” Alexis de Tocqueville
018 THE BABEL ISSUE
LWLies: What do you love about movies? Iñárritu: About movies? LWLies: About movies. Iñárritu: Wow. There are so many angles. What do I love about movies? I think a way to put it is that, besides the fact that I can eat popcorn without guilt, I think that it reminds me of and reveals to me things about the human condition that I’m not aware of until that moment. It brings me closer to the things that I should be close to, but I have forgotten. When a film touches me on that level, it reminds me of my own life, and it gives me a justification for this complex life that we are living. It puts me in touch with the source and the reason and the meaning of life. LWLies: Gael? Bernal: I have a very concrete answer thanks to the objectivity and the nature of a 17 year-old girl from Brazil that told me this. She lives in Rocinha, a big favela in Rio, and she’s doing some great workshops with Fernando Meirelles about filmmaking in the favelas. She said, ‘Ultimately, I don’t know if I want to dedicate myself to cinema. But what cinema has given me is the opportunity to know about the Other, and to know that the Other is not much different from what I am.’ So if I had to choose one sentence to show what cinema is about, it is that. It has allowed me to see the world – making it or watching it – it has allowed me to see the world, noticing that the Other is not much different than I am.
Honest, passionate and unmerciful. www.littlewhitelies.co.uk
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*!-%3 ,)+%3 53 Spent yesterday evening devouring Marie Antoinette. Not the shit ďŹ lm, but your ďŹ ne latest issue. Do congratulate everyone; youâ€™re going from strength to strength. Cheers. *AMES
3(/0 &,/0 I really enjoy how different your magazine is; the reviews are great and so is focusing on one ďŹ lm every issue. I also love the innovative and exciting design. But in the Marie Antoinette issue, articles about shopping started to creep in. Could you please stop it? Truth & Movies, thatâ€™s what weâ€™re here for. !NGELA
&//$ &/2 4(/5'(4 Little White Lies is usually pretty spot on when it comes to complimenting the feature ďŹ lm, and I like the balance of more â€˜heavyâ€™ features and lighter stuff, but I was a little confused by your take on Marie Antoinette. I was
with you on the review, and really enjoyed the Marrakech piece. Gang of Four are one of â€˜thoseâ€™ bands, so that was pretty much a given, but two articles on food? Nice connection and I liked both bits, but I was a little surprised you decided to dedicate so much attention to what was, arguably, one of the more frivolous aspects of the ďŹ lm. $EAN 0ARKINSON
%!5 $% ,7,)%3 Thank you for producing the ďŹ nest magazine available right now. Not since the heady days of Cinefantastique has a ďŹ lmrelated magazine so captivated me. I love the fact that you focus on a theme each issue. PLEASE DONâ€™T CHANGE THIS. The ďŹ rst thing I do when I get a copy is open it up, bury my head in the pages and take a long, deep breath, Wonderful! 2AHEEL
4// 3-//4( Why the new shiny cover? I suppose in some ways it is
better. But it makes the magazine look cheap! If itâ€™s a cost thing then itâ€™s okay, but if it was a choice of vanity, then please go back to smooth matte... Mmmmmatte. !DAM