Babel and Paradise Now

Babel is a work of absolute genius, but still stands, in my view, the second best film of last year. The best film is a unquestioningly a Palestinian film called ‘Paradise Now’, which was not even recognized by any of the awards announced. That is why awards such as the Oscars will always be suspect..

So if you get a chance, see Paradise Now. It is a film about two friends that sign up to go on a suicide bomb attack inside Isreal, and the events that follow. It is riveting, not in the forced ‘hollywoodized’ way of say United 93, but in an absolutely real and raw way. And the central male lead is far far better than any other performance of the year.
Which does nto detract from the greatness of Babel. On whatever level. However, when I meet the Director of the film, I will ask him what the relavence of the Japanese story was to the two other stories. The japanese story in itself was really engrossing and emotional, but other than a plot device of the Rifle, how were the themes explored in the Moroccon and the Mexican stories related to the Japanese ones ?
Any points of view on this ?

31 thoughts on “Babel and Paradise Now

  1. Dear Shekhar,
    I think Inarritu was working from a great script from Guillermo Arriaga, which actually made Babel great, in addition to great editing. I had the pleasure of meeting the director at the official screening of Babel at the ‘Museum of Moving Image’ in New York, and he did answer lots of questions – people were curious how he shot the last scene. He used a crane for the first few seconds and the rest are all still shots as the camera moves away.
    In a recent interview on PBS with Charlie Rose Inarritu(the director) told that he was actually discovering the complex relationship between Parents and Children in all the Babel stories.
    Brad Pit and Cate Blanchett trying to mend their marriage in Morocco – but constantly worried about their kids- specially in the really touching scene when Brad calls the kids from the hospital.
    The kids in the wilderness of Morocco and their father who gave them the gun, and how their relationship changes when they find out that the younger son has fired the bullet.
    The Japanese father who has just lost his wife and has a deaf/mute daughter, and the exploration of their love.
    The Mexican maid, who considers Brad and Cate’s kids as her own.
    He says that although the gun connects the stories, but at an individual level he was just studying parent-children relationships in unique circumstances.
    Himanshu – New York

  2. dude…
    even i dont find any link except the plot.
    well there is one thin thread…
    mis understanding is the central germ…and in Japaneses girl’s case she cant speak…so no one is able to understand her except the police officer…thats the thin thread linked to the central germ i think…

  3. Paradise Now was nominated last year (2006) at the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film. It was annoying because they had to announce it as coming from “The Palestinian Territories” rather than Palestine. Great film, though. I really appreciated it because I feel like a lot of the time we as people need to step over the line we’ve drawn for ourselves. A line is just a line, perspective is infinite.
    I had a slightly different reaction to Babel. Although I appreciate what it was saying, especially that we need to care for our children, I found myself shutting off half-way through the movie. I felt too inundated with the suffering, the bad sh*t that was happening kept coming at me like gangbusters and my human defense mechanism kicked in, whereby which I sort of shut off. I believe that in life there is good in every bad and bad in every good. Therefore I would have liked to see more levity in the film. One story line that followed through on a positive note, some happiness somewhere, somehow…
    However, I do appreciate that films like this (ie. Babel, Syriana, Paradise Now, Hotel Rwanda) are being made and seen. I believe that the international cinematic dialogue is a force which has great power to influence the populace and I am grateful to all the artists who use their voice to this end.
    Including you, Shekhar.
    Thank you.

  4. yeah…thanks himanshu…
    the director says he explored parent-children relationship…
    Strange…!!! why one needs so many locations, 20 million plus actors drenched in blood and dust, bullets, world politics, cars , helicopters to explore such relationships…!!!
    i wonder why no one has guts to do something like ‘ whos afraid of virginia wolf? ‘

  5. Thank you Polly for correcting me,
    Yet I did not see Babel as a film that explored parent child relationships. What I felt through the film, especially the Moroccan and the Mexican episodes was a searing indictment of the fear that Americans, cocooned as they are in their own world, feel towards the world outside their own comfort zone. Also their complete lack of compassion towards anyone not co opted into their ‘way of life’.
    Be it the bus passengers in Morocco that saw a terrorist in every face. Be it the Border Guards at the Mexican/US border. Be it Brad Pitt’s desperate attempts to get through to the US embassy.
    It is also about the fear the Americans have created of themselves. In the way the Moroccon’s jumped and treated their own so badly because one American had been accidentally shot by a young boy. The whole world took this on as a serious international media event and a diplomatic incident.
    That was the message that came searing across to me and I was wondering what the Japanese story had to do with this. And I am wondering too, if the constant interviews the Director giving, saying this film is about children, is pandering to the Studio’s Oscar campaign ? The Academy would certainly not give an Oscar to a foriegner who criticizes the US

  6. Dear Shekhar,
    One of the things that Inarritu constantly says is his lack of respect for authority. He said that the scene where Gael Garcia Bernal(Maid’s cousin) is stopped at the US immigration checkpoint was like from his own life, as he works in LA on a visa and has to go back to Mexico every 6 months to renew his visa.
    Also, the scene in the end where the Mexican maid is harassed by US immigartion at the end is like a comment to justify the worth of undocumented immigrants in America.
    It was quite funny when he got the ‘Best Film’ award at the Golden Globes this year from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the first comment he made when he got up was, “Governor, I swear I have my papers in order.”
    The Moroccan story does show the fear of Americans and I agree that they did see a terrorist in the faces of Moroccons, and found themselves in a situation where they could hardly trust anyone, and were desperate to seek help from the US embassy.
    In some respects, Paramount Vantage,which has ‘Babel’ as it’s Flagship product maybe trying to give a more mainstream look to the film in its campaign, so that the academy votes. They still might get Best Picture, with someone else getting Best Director(Will Scorcese get his long awaited due?)
    Last year when the fight was between Crash and Brokeback Mountain, the opposite happened. The academy was more than happy to give Ang Lee the Oscar for direction (even ahead of Spielberg), but not vote for the gay theme. Also, ‘Crash’, which was about LA did strike a chord with the academy, and got the Oscar.

  7. Shekhar,
    I think the central theme of the movie was exploring the relationships of people belonging to different culture and speaking different languages and how screwed up the world is right now because of the misunderstandings between cultures.
    Being deaf and mute is like “speaking” an alien language and belonging to a different culture.
    I think the director portrays the agony of the weaker entities(Moroccans & Mexicans) in not communicating “properly” to the stronger entity (US of A).
    In the Japanese section of the movie the weaker entity is the deaf and mute girl and the stronger entity is the “normal” society.

  8. Dude, I have nothing to say to this. The name pretty much says it all. White noise and confusion. That’s what the director had in his head. he had a story he didnt know how to tell. He had a vision he didnt know how to interpret. And a cast he didnt know how to use. Ya sure, he almost made a great film. But that’s all the space there is between greatness and a lack of it. Almost.

  9. Shekhar, I have a suggestion for you. You need to incorporate a Search field in your website. I remember having posted my comments on Babel nearly a month back, immediately after seeing it, and wanted to search for it. But couldn’t.
    As I had said then, the director Inarritu has made an excellent comment on the fucked up world we live in. The film is about the chaos we have on this planet due to the lack of communication between people, whether they speak different languages or even when they speak the same language. All the stories in the film, including the Jap girl’s were wowen around this theme. The film had nothing to do with children or how parents should treat them. The film has a universal theme and is not US specific.
    The Jap story was a metaphor for how difficult it is for an average person to make him/herself understood in the contemporary world. It doesn’t matter even if you were perfectly normal physically, you would still be in the same situation as that of the mute-deaf girl.
    The title Babel itself should make the intent of the maker very clear. He wanted to make a film based on the chaos happening in this world due to lack of communication and that’s exactly what he did. And now if people are going to dissect his film and create their own interpretations of his film…….then I would say that he has succeeded in proving his point. That this planet is Babel.

  10. Babel is more of a FORM than a story… there are four stories running parallel to each other and are linked on physical plane by the gun…(on thematic plane i found the link of mis understanding or miscommunication)(the director is saying parent-children relationship)
    so for me it is not a great story but a form handled well!

  11. Shekhar:
    Not only was Paradise Now nominated for an Oscar, but it won a Golden Globe for foreign film last year.

  12. Hi Shekhar,
    Babel is truely a class apart!
    I suggest you try watch “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film this year). A very brief preface about the film is on my blog: This film is another example of some fine story-telling.
    It will be interesting to hear from you on how you compare it to Deepa Mehta’s “Water”, which is also competing in the same award category.
    Cheers 🙂

  13. Have not seen Pan’s Labrynth nor Water. Will catch up with them. I met the Director of Pan’s Labrynth at the Bafta’s. Nice guy. I like Deepa Mehta” work, and thought Fire was a really good film. So look forward to seeing both the films. Shekhar

  14. Dear Shekar,
    Hi I am a PhD student in Australia. I have been watching holloywood and bollywood movies since my childhood and have love for history as well. Let me get to the point. As last king of scottland (The Movie) has won critical acliam, and is in Oscars race as well for best actor, an idea came to my mind. As I have a great amiration for you as a great director from South Asia (my region of origin as well). I want to request you to make a movie on the last American queen of Sikkam Miss Hope Cooke. The movie will have every thing in it history romance and politics. She married the last king of Sikkam become a queen in her 20s the king was 39. Sikkam became a part of India after reffendum in 1970s. The last queen returned to US lived in Manhatton become a tour operator for the tourists had two kids from the king they (King and her) later got divorsed. She also wrote her memiors. I know alots of in depth research is required, but I strogly believe its a great movie idea. I will be really greatful if you look into this and mail me your comments.

  15. Shekhar, I would love to reconnect with you. I’m still working in media and plan to come to India later this Spring. Please drop me a note. All the best, reagan

  16. …I got it now…i haven’t watched Paradise Now ( will sure watch it), but till date BABEL has shaken, opened, destroyed, make me want to criticize, aroused, involved, and transported me( to various spheres) all at the same time; especially the disco scene in Japan, wherein Rinko ( the deaf mute girl’s experiences are induced on to audiences via a screen, JUST A SCREEN, i got goose bumps during that scene.
    All the Best

  17. The title Babel of course gives us the theme: our lack of connectedness in an age of globalization and instant messaging.
    The interconnectedness of the characters in Babel was obvious within the first half hour to forty minutes. The only question was why the deaf-mute girl was acting out. And yet, my asking myself that distracted me from the obvious gun ownership line.
    I began to wonder, is there an underlying theme of sexual inappropriateness between the father and deaf daughter? That would explain both the sexual inappropriateness and mother’s suicide. Which I felt pulled me away from the theme.
    So, this felt forced. The linkages could have been made less obvious, and the stories better connected (in their “dis connected communication”) at the end.
    Not as good as I’d hoped. The film showed Brad Pitt is not just a pretty face, but I wonder if lesser known actors might have strengthened the balance of the film.

  18. A page from History of Punjab:
    Hi Shekhar, it’s Syed once again I want share a page from history of Punjab. A few days ago I read an article(Click on this link to read the article or copy paste that in your browser: about Princess Bamba Jindan the grand daughter of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh (The Loin of Punjab) and Rani Jindan. She was born in UK during her father Delip singh’s forced exile by British raj. She came to Punjab on the road to discover her heritage and fell in love with Lahore and decided to stay there lived there till her death in 1957. She broought the collection of art with her and other documents married connel Southerland the principle of King Edward madical college. I believe a good director can make a movie about Maharaja Ranjeet Sigh a saint to Sikh community and his Son Delip Singh a very interesting character in history of Punjab. The plot of the movie could be Princess Bamba’s Road to Discovery of her heritage and it could look like kind of flash back as she reads the history during her stay in Lahore. Following are the links to Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and his Son Dalip singh and Rani Jindan:
    Waiting for your comments:
    Please do read Articles about Bamba, Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, Daleep Singh and Rani Jindan they are really interesting

  19. Hi Shekhar ji, I am a documentary film producer based in India, Recently I have made a 35 mnts film on the tragic life of Maharaja Duleep Singh . This film titled ‘ A Monument of Injustice’ was also screened at the House of Commons, UK Parliament on 3rd July 2007 , where i had also presented a paper on his life.
    Please watch this film, which can be orded from :
    Rgds.. Amarjeet Singh

  20. hi sekhar sir,
    when will ur “Time machine” begin..? I am a die hard fan of yours from my childhood.My dad use to say you are the indian spielberg….Make one more film for the kids..som
    ething very entertaining like Mr.India.I went to study Visual Communication with the thought tat one day i ll become a “shekar kapoor”…regards..
    ………all d best for all of ur crazy ventures… with luv……..vaishak

  21. When I first watched Babel in a Chennai multiplex, my fellow direction student from the film school reacted strangely. He almost fell sick by watching the continuous flow of hand-held shots on the big screen. Specially in the opening. That was really a strange behaviour from an otherwise ‘normal’ guy. What I felt after watching Babel is that it’s another story (and by definition, stories are linear) told in a non-linear way. From the previews I got, I expected to see a non-linear narrative however…

  22. hi… I am one very unfortunate guy who was close to Hope Cooke (20-30 years now) in a sense I always revered and loved her as my queen. And still I cant call her by name….for me she is Gyalmo and will always remain so…. Syed has talked about making a movie…. in fact, i was feeling like writing in a similar line…but my English is shity and no money… (I just live near palace (now dilapidated…) ! Yes, it would be really exciting to do a project like that…It will have all the ingredients… as you said.. dear Syed, should you feel please write me… just to share thoughts…

  23. Hi Shekar
    I loved Babel for its treatment and capture of different cultural diversities on a single frame, leading to a connection between the 4 stories.
    My own interpretation of the link between the Japanese girl’s story to the shooting incident is that the gun her father gave away to Hussain was actually the one which killed her mom. (whether her father did it to erase the bitter memory of his wife’s suicide or was he trying to dispose evidence after killing her is unclear). And this gun was what led to the turn of events in the other people’s lives. makes sense?…

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