Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi, Adriana Barraza
(R, 144 min.)
"We build our own cages." Paul Zindel
While its title predisposes us to think that language and culture divide us, a closer look at Babel reveals the most profound chasms are between those linked closest in blood and intimacy. Whether it is the barren deserts of Morocco, the stark skies and steely towers of Tokyo, or the warm night air that wraps itself around a boisterous Tijuana wedding, the struggle to connect continues to plague us.
Director/screenwriting pair Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Arriaga dish up their third potluck tale (Amores Perros, 21 Grams) of disparate lives intersecting with each other in ironic, earnest, and also tragic consequences. The first collaboration Amores Perros takes place entirely in Mexico and is perhaps the freshest of the three, serving as a model for last year’s highly successful copycat Crash. This once innovative structure, however, is now becoming a bit ragged, and seems a little too dependent on meaningless coincidence, as well as being a poor substitute for a more textured plot.
In Morocco a goat herder’s sons use their newly acquired rifle for targets other than the jackals they are sent to eliminate, creating a jagged hole whose shattered glass shards threaten four families across the globe. Accidental American tourists, Richard (Brad Pitt putting paid to his pretty boy image) and icy wife Susan (Cate Blanchett) prove to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Susan’s nap against the tourist bus window resulting in a bloody wake up.
Their inability to get home to San Diego as scheduled, in turn, catapults their nanny to take an ill-advised trip to her son’s wedding in Tijuana, Mexico, toting her young blond charges along with her. And somewhere across the ocean, Chieko, a deaf mute in Tokyo, acts out the anguish of her mother’s suicide and the longing for her father’s attention in a Girls Gone Wild series of episodes that might have been the model for Britney Spears’ recent very public displays of her anatomy, if indeed the blond ex Musketeer would have even been bothered to watch this Indie flick.
The film feels most at home in Mexico, where a Mariachi Band fills the soft night with the sounds of love and promise under a starry sky. In Morocco, the unprofessional actors create an authenticity most thespians would envy as they move in harmony with the dusty hills to eke out their living. And among the tall Tokyo skyscrapers that light up the night, we feel Chieko’s desolation as she tries desperately to fit in with the lonely crowd teaming in that modern city, a segment that is the most enigmatic and intriguing. (Am I, for instance, the only one to pick up some hints about a sexually abusive relationship that might be behind Chieko’s misbehavior?)
The cinematography captures everything from desert sweeps to cold glass towers, adding depth with some hand held intimate shots, and often teasing us with confusing quick cuts between dusty Morocco and the desert flats of Mexico. And the acting is uniformly excellent, Brad Pitt showing depth and range as he lives up to the amateurs who turn in such admirable work.
Would that the script had been up to these standards. First of all, we have the predictable anti-American jabs, Richard and Susan, as well as the tour bus of Westerners in Morocco, often impatient, imperious, and culturally tone deaf. Border agents in California as well as Moroccan authorities are at the least cold hearted bureaucrats, the worst, brutal reactionaries.
Neither am I a fan of the gratuitous, it seems to me, scraping away of human dignity displayed in the scatological voyeurism that pot marks the film. Do we really need to have the Moroccan youth peering though a wall at his disrobing sister and later displaying acts of autoeroticism for the camera’s eye? The same said for the lusty tongue kiss that renews the acquaintance between the aging nanny and an old friend in Tijuana. And what to make of the poignant scene between Richard and Susan, the one that tears down the icy wall of shared tragedy that has separated them? Why, of course, it occurs as he helps her to use an improvised bedpan on the dirt floor where she lays her blood-soaked body.
And I might suggest a good editing - take a look at the excellent Army of Shadows - to remove some self-indulgent length.
Yet, for all these nitpicking shortcomings, Babel veers from the well-beaten path to risk some candid glimpses into mankind’s murky soul, its desperation, longing, and sometimes futile attempts to reach out.
The place where Babel feels most at home is at the all night wedding in Tijuana, among the red and white plastic chairs strewn on the warm earth and the soft sounds from the Mariachi band under a blanket of stars. Here time slows down a little to forestall the dawn, and we forget the frenzy of the rest of the world.
Join the celebration with these delicious Mexican Wedding Cakes, which really are cookies. And they actually do melt in your mouth. Just the thing for the holidays, don’t you think?
Mexican Wedding Cakes
“These melt-in-your mouth, shortbread-like cookies go by many names; a Russian Tea Cake, a Mexican Wedding Cake, an Italian Butter Nut, a Southern Pecan Butterball, a Snowdrop, a Viennese Sugar Ball and a Snowball. They are very popular, not only during the Christmas season, but also at weddings, christenings, and other festive occasions.
The secret to making these cookies taste their best is to use a high quality butter and pure vanilla extract.“
- 2/3 cup toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts)
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup confectioners' (powdered or icing) sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup powdered (icing or confectioners) sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
Toast Nuts: Place nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool. Once the nuts have cooled completely place them, along with 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of the flour from the recipe, into your food processor, fitted with a metal blade, and process until they are finely ground (but not a paste). Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the remaining flour and salt and beat until combined. Stir in the nuts. Cover and refrigerate the dough for about 1 hour or until firm.
Form the dough into 1 inch (2.54 cm) balls and place them 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for about 12 - 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies start to brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, line another baking pan or tray with parchment or wax paper. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the confectioners' sugar on the bottom of the pan and then place the slightly cooled cookies on top of the sugar. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a fine strainer or sieve and then sprinkle the tops of the cookies (or you can just roll the cookies in the sugar).
Store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Recipe Source: Joy of Baking.com