Sunday, April 01, 2007

Some Movie Linkage

My sister came down for a visit this weekend. Last night we watched Babel, a movie that presents four distinct catastrophic narratives that are linked via the slenderest means (and most indulgent of conceits). It was certainly a disturbing and provocative experience, however: this morning we all admitted to difficulties falling asleep. Despite the movie's considerable flaws, all of us wished the movie had somehow delivered more, because what was there had significant promise. The stories took pains to prey upon very primal fears, including the fear that everything we do is causally linked.

Also, children are deliberately put in harm's way, and the adults find themselves bereft of their childrens' love. I don't much like having my chain yanked in that fashion, but there's no denying it's an effective tack to take with viewers. There'd just damn well better be something worth savouring at the end of the cruelty, and Babel had precious little to offer. My sister and my wife thought the Mexican sequences were circling around something of significance; I was drawn toward the Japanese narrative. There were scenes and details that lingered, but felt empty when considered within the contrivance of the whole.

That's as much as I'll say. Besides, David Denby got it right, here.


I recently viewed Flags Of Our Fathers, and thought it was a worthwhile addition to the new line of World War II epics that began with Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Eastwood's achilles heel as a director seems to be his pacing: his movies lull in the strangest places, and just when you think they're going to end, something happens that requires another 10 to 20 minutes to explain. Be that as it may, he also has a knack for giving actors a chance to surprise an audience. This time around the spotlight was stolen by Adam Beach, a man with an impossibly sweet smile that can grow distressingly dark in a heartbeat. Readers curious about this Native Canadian have five more days to check out this portrait of Beach here, before the Globe & Mail's shortsighted on-line policy takes effect.


When Roger Ebert hailed Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour as a "Great Movie", I dutifully rented it and gave it my attention. What I saw left me scratching my head. Ebert says this is "possibly the best-known erotic film of modern times, perhaps the best"? I dunno: when it comes to erotic heat, this flick generates about as much as you might find in an episode of Spongebob Squarepants.

Now, I don't mind admitting Catherine Deneuve is a pretty woman, or even a breath-taking beauty. But sexy, sultry, seductive she ain't: certainly not in the way Rita Hayworth is in Gilda, or, as Germain Greer pointedly reminds us, Lauren Bacall is in To Have And Have Not.


One final comment about Babel: when the tourists on the fateful bus in Morrocco start whining like a bunch of babies, my wife (who knows a thing or two about travelling through desolate, potentially dangerous landscapes) blurted out, "That's ridiculous! No-one who signs up for a tour like that would act like that." To add to the incredulity of the scene, the most unapologetically selfish of the whiners is an Australian man. Think about that for a second: a beautiful blonde is dying from a gunshot wound and the Australian man just wants to go home? Uh-uh, Charlie. He's the bloke who put together the posse that just collared the two punks who fired the gun. And what really ticked him off was he wasn't the intended target.

Now if you'll excuse me, I believe I'll go practise my whistle.


DarkoV said...

I liked Babel, mostly due to the clever editing and story sequence connection. I’m a sucker for the Traffic/Crash/ Syriana style. Keeps your wits in high gear.
I also liked it for its realism.
Hereto my limited reasoning:
1) Rich folks go through struggles, of their own doing, and all survive.
2) Poor folks go through struggles through choice they made but which were triggered directly/indirectly by the rich folks and either die or get their lives irreversibly altered…for the worse.
3) Rich folks have adventures and make it through o.k./ O.K.! O.K.! One does get a bullet in the neck but she survives and her marriage gets repaired.
4) Life is adventure enough for poor folks and they fell lucky if they make it through the day intact.

Kudos to your lovely spouse for her two cents about the character of the bus passengers. I agree with you about the poor choice of the bus wimp to be of Australian origin. What was the screenwriter thinking other than jealousy of the Australian spirit? I haven’t met tons of Australians, but the 20 or so I have would never exhibit any of the character traits deposited on the bus woose in the picture. He’d be kickin’ ass and takin’ names, and all with a smile on his face and a joke on his lips.

As regards the film, I liked it afterwards for different reasons than I though I would when I pressed the Start button on the DVD player. And I’m a sucker for Brad Pitt. Yeah, he’s gorgeous (as the wife noticed) but he is a most interesting fellow. I’d say he may have some Australian in him.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Deneuve is too fragile, too soft to be successfully seductive. No way she can compete with the likes of Carroll Baker.

Julie Christie is another actress that is almost too porcelain to be seductive. Note I said, "almost". Dr. Zhivago was definitely more wonderful with the addition of Ms Christie.

Whisky Prajer said...

DV - I've got to admit the Traffic/Crash/Syriana template has considerable charm. Even the ones I think didn't work too well (Traffic, Babel) still made an effort to respect the viewer's intelligence, and brother, that's not something I take for granted. I don't begrudge any these movies my time or money.

And the dichotomy you point out between the outcomes of the rich and poor was indeed one of the most affecting aspects of Babel. I guess I found myself holding back as I watched the nanny, Amelia, as she made her choices. I rather think a Mexican illegal who's spent 16 years in California would opt to miss her son's wedding over taking the children across the border without parental letters. But then we'd have been deprived of all the sensual fun of the Mexican wedding.

I'm also with you on Brad Pitt - you'd think guys like us would withhold our empathy out of sheer jealousy, but he somehow brings us onside.

CP - curious how Dr. Zhivago works so well, despite the off-the-charts beauty of Christie and the handsomeness of Sharif. Someone should explore that, I think (nudge, nudge).