It isn't the epic staging of Babel but the "glittering performances" that hold it together. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett rub shoulders with regular folk in a multilingual story of global togetherness, marking the most ambitious undertaking yet for director Alejandro González Iñárritu. He was rewarded with seven Oscar nods, however, only Gustavo Santaolalla bagged gold for his haunting score.
Less Talk, More Action
If you splash out for the two-disc Collector's Edition you'll be treated to a feature-length fly-on the-wall documentary which follows cast and crew as they shoot the film across three continents. It's also an intriguing portrait of a director who could be getting a little too big for his well-travelled boots. Before each new phase of filming, he delivers grandiloquent speeches about friendship and solidarity, and then proceeds to hurl obscenities at the underlings who fail to serve His Vision.
It's not just the crew who get abused either. Throughout the film Iñárritu offers his thoughts on how the shoot is coming along and admits, "Sometimes I torture my actors... but I think it's worth it." We see the staging of the scene where Cate Blanchett is struck by a bullet and the director explains how he made the actress repeat the action again and again until there was "a gloss in her eyes" that captured the emotion he wanted. Of course if he wanted Blanchett to look glazed over, all he had to was give another speech on the brotherhood of man...
Thank goodness Brad Pitt has a sense of humour. The star has a sly dig at the fussy filmmaker after shooting an exhausting sequence where he must run, carrying the bleeding Blanchett, into a remote village. "Hey, Brad..." the director coos ominously. "What," asks Pitt, "Kubrick wants another one?" Cue nervous laughter.
Hands Around The World
Later on we see Iñárritu butting heads with authorities in Japan. After securing permission to stop Tokyo traffic for one minute, the director goes on to halt it for seven and thus gets booted out of the city. In the car on the way out, he whines about the pernickety tendencies of the Japanese - but we can hardly hear him over the clang of irony... He's much happier working in his homeland of Mexico, although the same can't be said of Mexican actress Adriana Barraza. After running through the desert for hours in blazing heat, she collapses with a severe case of heat stroke. Even so, she reports for work two hours later! No doubt she's a hardened professional, but we also suspect she's a little frightened of Iñárritu...
After an hour-and-a-half of hazardous trials and tribulations, we see the shoot end with a lot of crying and hugging, and yes, another speech by the director about the "beauty" of so many people coming together for one common purpose and blah, blah, blah... In retrospect, he muses, "With Babel, I felt I was in labour, giving birth to a four-headed child." So just imagine how the actors felt!
If you can stomach all the touchy feely speechifying, this Collector's Edition DVD affords some entertaining insights into the metaphorical Tower Of Babel that is Iñárritu's ego.
Babel: Collector's Edition DVD is released on Monday 21st May 2007.