Here’s a quick insight into how my mind now works while watching a new film (a scary prospect, but bear with me). My opinion starts off at CF0 and then wavers up and down the scale as the film progresses. Imagine a little CF measuring device with a red arm flittering back and forth. That’s my brain. Sometimes it’ll slowly make its way up the scale as the film increases in goodness (see Bobby). Othertimes an event will make it drop to the very bottom (see soppy soppy bits in Casino Royale). At the end of the film I then try to summarise the average reading on my internal CF scale. That’s how it works.
Anyway, the reason I’ve gone into this is because my internal CF measuring device had a long time to waver back and forth with this week’s film. Mainly because this week’s film is about eight days long.
Ok, slight exaggeration. But you certainly get your money’s worth with Babel. It’s 142 minutes and features four different stories, each interlinked in the physical world (the characters having some connection or other) and the arty metaphorical world (they all have, like, communication issues, which is why the film’s called Babel and it’s, like, deep and stuff). To us narrow-minded westerners it was advertised as a Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett vehicle with token foreign co-stars, but in reality the four stories get equal time and attention, located in Morocco, Mexico and Japan.
The high points on my CF scale were rooted to the Japan story of a deaf-mute teenage girl, played by the captivating Rinko Kikuchi (rightly oscar-nominated for best supporting actress). Her character was fascinating, the direction in her segments was superb (especially a blistering club seen through her altered senses) and with a little more to it this could have been a film all on its lonesome. The CF scale was reaching 3.
Then we have Brad and Cate, a married couple taking vacation in Morocco to try and reconcile a few issues (they don’t talk any more – they don’t communicate – see it’s dead clever. Sort of. Well, not that clever.) As disaster strikes their story fades into a mangle of desperation, which is played well by both but seems to just tail off a little at the end. The CF scale wavered down between 1 and 2, dipping when the token British couple appeared who acted like token British twats. Us British, eh? Always such bastards.
The Mexico segment had some of the liveliest scenes (Mexican weddings look fantastic. What a jolly bunch of people) and though it picked up pace towards the end, and I’d enough emotional investment to care what happened to the characters, its finish was also curtailed into a ‘oh’ rather than a ‘wow’. A sort of CF0 to 2 mix on that one.
And finally the fourth segment, focusing on some Moroccan goat farmers, had some moments of well played drama, but again petered out. And that highlights my problem with this film. After such a long investment of my time I wanted a big pay-off at the end. Something to tie everything up, or at least go out with some impact. But no – nothing. My CF scale had gone up and down throughout, rising when characters became well-developed or emotions ran high, then starting to drop as I became aware of the slow passage of time. But with so much potential and an interesting topic to the linguist in me, it was a shame that it wasn’t all put to good use. There was no real lasting impression or ‘message’. I didn’t want a Crash-type film ramming something down my throat, but a small point would’ve been nice.
I mentioned my inner scale at the start to highlight that there were moments in this film that I was putting it at a CF3. But ultimately you have to take films as a whole, and for letting things unravel a bit too much at the end Babel drops down to CF1. Give an Oscar to Rinko. But perhaps just settle for a small applause to Babel.