Given that tomorrow morning heralds the crowning of Hollywood’s newest thespian King and Queen (and a special 6.45am working day for me), it seems rather fitting to pen my belated thoughts on the two Cate Blanchett vehicles that I have had the pleasure of watching in the past month.
I am not quite sure why reviewers are not too enthusiastic about this movie that spans four different languages and involves different groups of people across the globe with seemingly no connection to one another. Our local scribe at the daily paper even panned Blanchett’s performance as “listless”. All I can say is, how does one put on an energetic performance when one is an injured victim for 95 percent of one’s screen time?
That aside, I enjoyed every moment of this trans-continental series of unfortunate events. Kudos to director Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu for putting together a solid cast of actors and pulling off what seems like an impossible task. The change in scenery and language throughout the movie was done smoothly, such that the audience does not feel oddly disjointed.
As the American couple trying to work out the harmonies of their marriage that seems to have soured, the pairing of Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt has a strange taste to the palate. As much as I dislike the media whore that is Brad Pitt, I have to admit that he delivers a credible performance as a husband who is trying desperately to bring help to his injured wife and a father who misses his children badly while juggling the stress of his wife’s health. Cate Blanchett, as always, never fails to light up the screens every time she appears, even when in pain, She somehow lends an air of vulnerability to her character. Little things like how she feverishly sanitized the cutlery that she was drinking from and how she stared forlornly and blankly out of the coach window showed her inner turmoil.
When her Moroccan shooters, teenage brothers who were given a rifle to keep coyotes away from their flock, were pursued relentlessly by the police, you couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pain at their brotherly love for each other and the dreadful loss of innocence for these young boys who were just out to have some fun.
But the best scenes from the movie are those set in Japan. The star of the movie is Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi who rightly deserves her Academy Awards nomination. As a deaf-mute student struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her mother, also her primary caretaker, her state of confusion and loneliness comes through powerfully. The muted soundscape that occurs each time we see things from her point of view helps to bring us to the silent and empty world that she lives in.
The revelation of the truth surrounding certain characters and the eventual uncovering of the connection between the characters was done masterfully and lends a slight sense of awe to the audience. In all, Babel was truly a fantastic evening out.
Notes on a Scandal
To say that Notes is a thriller is somewhat wrong. It is indeed an exciting film that pulsates with frantic energy but it also has a whiff of dark comedy that is so typical of British humour.
In short: Judi Dench is Barbara, an elderly History teacher at a school full of young riff-raffs whose eyes we see through. She has an acerbic wit and is resigned to getting older at a school which she clearly has no respect for. Until she meets Sheba, the new art teacher played by Cate Blanchett. Barbara is taken by the beautiful Sheba, who is idealistic but has no idea how to control unruly students. Barbara envisions a picturesque future that goes beyond friendship for the two of them but these illusions were shattered when Barbara catches Sheba having a roll in the hay with a 15-year-old student.
With this shocking revelation, the movie shifts into acceleration mode and the power game that Barbara seeks to hold over the wispy Sheba becomes dangerous and thrilling.
Amazingly enough, Dench shone as the self-righteous woman who only sees things the way she wants them to be. She is delusional and yet has a perfect bird’s eye view and analysis of the environment.
As her foil, Cate Blanchett was beautiful and sweetly vulnerable. Helpless and weak, she manages to put up a hell of a fight against the claws of Barbara and somewhat unravels the mess that she had spun for herself.
When the two of them share the screen together, it’s like magic. You believe that they share a friendship based on loneliness, that the edgy barbs exchanged are almost physical.
With a script penned by Patrick Marber, the man who gave us the raw and bruisingly beautiful Closer, it is of no surprise that the lines are deliciously sharp, intelligent and darkly funny.