Babel: Borders Within

A new edition of the much acclaimed film Babel, (2006), has been released, this time with a “making of” documentary on a second disc. The packaging of this “Collector’s Edition” is identical to the February DVD release, with a cover that is an attractive patchwork of images from the film itself. The main feature is widescreen enhanced, with surround sound, and the domestic release offers only French and English audio and English and Spanish subtitling.

The addition of the documentary extra, (titled Common Ground: Under Construction Notes), offers illuminations for major fans of the film, or those interested in the work of Inarritu in general. While it is not particularly well filmed, and feels hastily put together, the 96-minute feature, (which has more or less a 96-minute voice-over by the director), follows a number of filming dilemmas that elegantly capture director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s deeper concerns about film.

The director begins by emphasizing that he had intended to make a film not about physical borders, but about those that people hold within themselves. “I started doing a film about the differences between human beings, and ended up doing a film about what brings us together, not what keeps us apart.” For those that have seen Babel, this should come as a relief. The four narratives that it features, an American couple mysteriously taking a sojourn in Morocco, Moroccan brothers who accidentally shoot the wife of the aforementioned couple, the illegal Mexican nanny of the children of the aforementioned couple who accidentally takes them to Tijuana and loses them in the desert, and a Japanese widower who accidentally provided the gun for the aforementioned accident, coasts on happenstance and is held together by well-edited visual correspondences. If the film was about what keeps people apart, one would have to accuse Inarritu of tackling too easy a job for so beautifully filmed a piece.

As the documentary reveals, Inarritu’s view of human communication emphasizes the violent and erotic capacities of the body. As you watch him interact with the boys who play Youssef, (Boubker Ait el Caid), and Ahmed, (Said Tarchani), amateur actors from Morocco, whom constantly needed a translator to mediate between themselves and the director, you begin to see a director who is precisely like the style of his work. Inarritu is kinetic, adventurous and deeply motivated by spontaneity of feeling.

It is difficult to criticize the work, as one might criticize other works that rely on echoes and suspension, as being one that relies on device. I would level this criticism, for instance, at a film like Crash, and even Inarritu’s less careful earlier film, Amores Perros. Inarritu is too careful, and will go to no ends to prevent a sacrifice of character in a scene. Over eight hours, for example, was spent filming the brief shot introducing Chieko, (Rinko Kinoku). The volleyball tournament, filmed in Ishioka, had 6 teams from local schools for the deaf. Even 80% of the audience watching the tournament was somehow hearing impaired. This is something unnoticeable in the final cut of the film, and necessary only for Inarritu to fully occupy the experience of working in translation.

These are things he needs, for Inarritu is a visceral director, whose films rely on the philosophy he espouses, communication through the oblique, through gut reaction to compositions and juxtapositions.

All in all, the new edition is worth getting a hold of for the documentary alone. For those considering purchase however, recall that this film marks the third of a series of film collaborations between Inarritu, and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, the previous works being Amores Perros, (2000) and 21 Grams, (2003). One might want to wait for the inevitable “Ultimate Inarritu” collector’s edition that will emerge in the next year or so.

RATING 8 / 10