Cinema Signal:

A Film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
(Photo Books)
by Maria Eladia Hagerman (editor)
[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("21 Grams") erects a tower of Babel that is of epic proportions but not quite biblical. In fact, his episodic ode on ironic connections in a world of increasing mobility builds on the foundation of "Syriana" but is more a chain than a tower.

Conceived and written by his creative compatriot Guillermo Arriaga ("21 Grams"), his film is comprised of four stories, each in a different country and native language, bound together by a single act. The stories are the shock waves that cross continents, revealed slowly until their final resolutions connect all the dots. It's a stunning adventure in storytelling and cinematic conception.

Story 1: A man of leathery hardness treads his way across the Moroccan hills of his mountain homeland to his goatherder neighbor Abdullah's house and sells him a fine rifle with which he and his sons Yussef and Ahmed (Boubker Ait El Caid and Said Tarchani) can kill the jackals that threaten their herd. For payment, he accepts money and a goat. Before leaving, he ignites the two youngster' imaginations with the claim that the rifle has a range of 3 miles. They doubt it, and put it to the test by firing at increasingly long distances. Disappointed in the results, they spot a tourist bus weaving its way through their herding range. The younger brother, the better marksman of the two, takes the rifle to see if his shot can reach this slow-moving target. Oh, fun. When the bus continues to wend its way they assume the bullet fell short. But when the bus crawls to a stop their assumption changes, as does the destiny of their lives.

Story 2: In a very comfortable San Diego home Mexican nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza) cares for little Debbie (Elle Fanning) and her slightly older brother Mike (Nathan Gamble) while their parents are away, on vacation. During a phone call from their father, we learn that he is trying to arrange for someone to take over Amelia's duties for a day so that she can attend her son's wedding in a barrio near Tijuana, Mexico. But when her replacement causes her doubt about the children's care, and all other possibilities are exhausted, she decides to take the children with her, a development that doesn't sit too well with her nephew Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal), who's doing the driving.

Story 3: Richard (Brad Pitt) and wife Susan (Cate Blanchett), are an American couple that aren't enjoying their trip to strange places so much, having gone away to help recover from their grief over the death of their most recent child. But they can't shrug off blame and misgivings so easily and feelings follow them as they come to grips with it. On a ride in their tourist bus Susan falls into a reverie of sleep until... she is shot, catching a bullet that cracks the window and her clavicle bone in her left shoulder. The sound is no greater than the creaks of the old vehicle, so Richard is stunned at the sudden appearance of blood on her, shouts for help, and contends with the lack of phones, ambulances and a doctor in Morocco, where the assumption is that it's the work of a terrorist, not of a boy testing his new rifle.

Story 4: In Tokyo, Japan, an all-girl, all-deaf volleyball team loses after Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi) flips off the umpire at an obviously bad call. She's the bad girl of the group of comely students, living with her widowed father Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) after the suicide death of her mother, an event she can't quite cope with. Her account of how her mother killed herself has aroused police interest but doesn't comport with the facts, in indication of a psychic shock that affects her reality and moral balance. She attempts to fill her srained, needful existence with a first sexual experience. Her behavior gets outright brazen when she removes her panties and flashes herself to a boy in a restaurant.

As these stories weave their way toward their common links, they take up their individual dramatic developments in turn, in layers of humanity and growing intensity. The connections between them develop an underlying sense of irony that works like a last act twist in a crime novel and provides a satisfying feeling of discovery.

Each story, in terms of strength and weakness, vary slightly in depth and meaning, from somewhat contrived (Japan), to psychologically stirring (Morocco 2), to sadly ironic in a skein of complex motivation (Morocco 1 - the boys), and to pushy, predictable and not altogether realistic (the nanny). But such harping aside, the concept is admirably justified by its quality and an utter fascination throughout.

What makes it so is the unique insights and cultural contrasts Inarritu devises as he remains steadfast in their cultural bases for the slices of life dramas. So we have the silences of a deaf mute in a nightclub pulsing with sound, the fears of mortality and abandonment in a remote third world reality, and the brutal coming of age of youth misguided by extremely bad judgement.

Pitt's work here is not only admirable--it's award level. As the butt of much media overattention, he continues to prove the excellence of his skill ("Troy," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"). Put him up against the craftsmanship of a Cate Blanchett and he's a study in creative concentration. I don't know what he tapped into for his emotional breakdown during his side of the phone call with his son, but he creates a memorable moment in acting that deserves much mention.

Blanchett is so solid you almost don't have to remark on her power because it's a given. The balance of the cast is comprised of very young actors, veterans in their area of work (Barraza, Yakusho, Bernal, Clifton Collins Jr.), and newcomers harnessed for their properly textural looks -- all well and studiously chosen. Much credit should also go to cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto for textures adapted to the country and style, from spartan dustiness to sumptuous spotlessness; the editing of Stephen Mirrione; and Douglas Crise's stimulating range of music and instrumentation, always tasteful and appropriate to the moments.

Dialogue is in English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese and French. Running time is a long 2 hours and 22 minutes that holds up well.

Click for full list of movie reviews

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack


The 2-disk Collector's Edition DVD

The Collector's Edition Video Download

Common Ground: Under Construction Notes
A comprehensive feature length making of video diary from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Very well written
This review will influence me to see this movie.
Site rating: 9

                                                           ~~ irwin g. 
Very well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer.
Site rating: 10

                                                           ~~ Aud B. 
Very well written - perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review. Site rating: 1

                                                           ~~ Russ L. 
[Ed. note: This visitor generously praises the writing, but downrates the site. If he doesn't tell us what he doesn't like about it, though, how can we correct or improve it?]

Very well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
Site rating: 7

I would prefer more analysis as the dvd doesn't have any special features to analyze symbolism, cultural expectation etc...

                                                           ~~ Kelly C. 
This review will influence me to read more by and recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 8

Why i agree, most of the review is true and simply understandable.

                                                           ~~ Ndud 
Very well written
I've seen the movie and: I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

I think, because the dialogue is in five different languages plus Japanese signing, the movie should provide, at least, some much needed sub titles.

                                                           ~~ Edward B.
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 7

You didn't address the end. Was this girl having an incestuous relationship with her Father?

                                                           ~~ Jane
[Ed. note: That never occurred to me and I don't think it was intended. My reviews avoid last act resolutions and anything that might be a spoiler for those readers who haven't yet seen the film under review.] Perceptive
Site rating: 9

I was transfixed! Amazing filming and acting especially the 2 arab bpoys and Cate Blanchett as ever is absolutely brilliant. I am still thinking about it next day.

                                                           ~~ Jennifer

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