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Babel gets its lines right

It would be surprising if Babel does not win the Palme d?Or, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: May 26, 2006 12:45 IST

If the first half of the Competition of the 59th Cannes Film Festival belonged entirely to Pedro Almodovar’s masterly Volver, the second week has been appropriated lock, stock and barrel by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel.

But none of the films that have come before, in between and after these two superb pieces of cinema can be written off in one stroke. As a result, the field remains as open as it was on day one of the current edition of the world’s premier festival.

Films like Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shook the Barley, Lou Ye’s Summer Palace, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Climates, Nanni Moretti’s Il Caimano and Aki Kaurismaki’s Lights in the Dusk are all in with a fair chance of pulling off an upset.

But all things considered, Babel must be regarded at this point of the Competition as the frontrunner in the Palme d’Or race. A stunningly well- orchestrated film that narrates four interconnected stories set in four culturally and geographically removed countries – Morocco, Mexico, Japan and the US.

Unique in the humanist yet unsentimental manner in which it explores the disconnection between people and nations, Inarritu’s film is an achievement of the highest order. Rarely has a contemporary filmmaker demonstrated as much control on as difficult a narrative construct,

Two young brothers in Morocco test a newly acquired rifle. An American woman travelling in a bus is hit in the neck. The nanny of her two children back in the US, an illegal Mexican migrant, courts trouble at every step. And in Tokyo, a teenaged deaf-mute girl searches for a sexual outlet.

Each of these characters, several of them played by amateur actors, is a person at odds with his or her surroundings, or with a partner. As in the case of the Biblical Tower of Babel, communication appears to be impossible in these situations, but human beings are capable of acts of heroism in the most trying of circumstances.

“I don’t believe in delivering lessons in what is right and wrong. Babel is not so much about what separates us as about what holds us together,” says Inarritu, who in his brief career has made films of such outstanding quality as Amores Perros (Love is a Bitch) and 21 Grams.

Featuring stars like Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal (the Mexican actor who was Che Guevara in Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, Babel keeps its focus trained firmly on the characters and the locales, embracing an almost documentary style to narrate stories of great emotional and intellectual depth.

It would be surprising and terribly disappointing if Babel does not win the Palme d’Or.