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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

A Japanese rifle. A Moroccan shepherd. A Mexican wedding. A pair of American tourists. Those elements combine in unexpected ways in a new movie thriller with a Biblical title. It's called Babel.

BLOCK: In a moment I'll talk with the film's director about the challenges of making a movie on three continents, in four countries, in five languages.

First, Bob Mondello has a review.

BOB MONDELLO: The notion that connections matter has been at the center of a number of movies lately. Crash exploring racial issues by telling a story from lots of different perspectives. Syriana connecting what seem random dots into a global portrait of the oil industry.

Now, Babel raises the stakes considerably. Its story is about how hard it is for people to understand one another and though the title has to do with language, when you listen to a married couple arguing in Morocco, it's clear that words aren't necessarily the culprit.


BRAD PITT: (as Richard) Why can't you just relax? Why are you so stressed?

CATE BLANCHETT: (as Susan) You're not the reason I'm stressed. You're the reason why I can't relax.

PITT: Have you tried?

BLANCHETT: You don't think I tried?

PITT: Don't argue.

BLANCHETT: Okay. You just let me know when you're ready to argue.

MONDELLO: Shortly after this conversation, as their tour bus is traveling a dusty Moroccan highway, a bullet from nowhere pierces the wife's shoulder. Within hours there's an international incident, the nearest hospital hundreds of miles away, phone contact all but impossible, terrorism suspected, but as embassies struggle with protocol, the film travels the world to make connections, showing how that single bullet, fired from a Japanese hunting rifle by a child whose Dad told him to keep jackals away from their sheep, puts children at risk on three continents.

The shepherd's son and his brother.


Unidentified Child: (Speaking foreign language)

MONDELLO: Two California preschoolers, who unexpectedly find themselves south of the border.

Child: My mom told me that Mexico is really dangerous.

Unidentified Man #1: Eh.

MONDELLO: And a deaf Japanese girl, whose signed and silent anger saddens her father.

Unidentified Man #2: Is there any way to tell her to, you know -

MONDELLO: The links between them are arrived at gradually, in overlapping scenes that create a sort of cinematic jigsaw puzzle. Only the audience has all the pieces and as the authorities struggle to understand what's happening what inevitably matters are the things not said, or said and misinterpreted, or simply not understood.

Director Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have chosen a complicated structure for this story about global disconnect. Arguably, it's more complicated than it needs to be but it's hard to argue with scenes as rich as the ones where these families come crashing up against governments that are trying to protect them. The California kids, caught at a border crossing. The deaf girl, forcing a confrontation with a Japanese detective. The two Moroccan boys pinned by gunfire on a barren hillside. The outcomes are not always tragic, but they are always wrenching in a film that proves unnervingly effective at communicating just how hard it is to communicate.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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