by Tony Medley
Some films have “A” story lines and “B” story lines. This one has so
many that I was wondering if there would be enough letters in the
alphabet to identify each. Not only are there many story lines, but
there are four separate locations, Morocco, Japan, the United States,
and Mexico, home of the team of director Alejandro González Ińárritu and
writer Guillermo Arriaga. As if that’s not enough, there are multiple
languages used, Japanese Sign Language, French, English, Spanish,
Japanese, Berber, and Arabic.
It starts out in Morocco where two goatherd
Moroccan boys, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said
Tarchani), irresponsibly test out a new, high-powered rifle by taking a
shot at tourist bus. The one wild shot hits Susan (Cate Blanchett). Her
husband, Richard (Brad Pitt), has the bus take her to a village where
she is in serious shape.
Meanwhile, their small son, Mike (Nathan Gamble), and daughter, Debbie
(Elle Fanning, Dakota's sister) in San Diego are being cared for by
Susan and Richard’s illegal immigrant nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza).
Amelia wants to return to Mexico to attend her son’s wedding. Since she
can’t find anyone to care for the children, she takes them along, leading
to disastrous consequences.
Japan, wealthy Japanese widower, Yasujiro (Koji Yakusho) has problems
with his teenaged sexually inexperienced but curious deaf-mute daughter,
Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi). Yasujiro is involved in all this because it was
his rifle that the Moroccan children used to shoot Susan.
The labyrinthine storytelling jumps back and forth among all the
locations and characters. Not told chronologically, it also jumps time
frames. This is a long movie, 2 hours 23 minutes running time, and takes
concentration and patience. But, even though it starts slowly, it
methodically builds tension as it proceeds at its own pace.
film covers the gamut from the wealthy to the achingly poor. It makes a
not-so-subtle commentary about the Congressional Republicans’ cravenly
callous illegal immigration policy that wants to secure the borders
without offering a guest worker program (a plan that was a primary
factor in costing them the 2006 Congressional election). However, to be
fair, it was the Democrats, led by the demagogue Cesar Chavez, that
killed just such a plan in California in the 1950s.
The acting is uniformly superb, even heart-throb Brad Pitt as the
distraught husband desperately trying to save his seriously injured wife
out in the middle of nowhere. Adding a dose of realism to the film,
Richard has to fight with the passengers on the bus who are losing
patience with staying in the remote village while Susan fights for her
Even so, the person who shines above all her A-List companions is
Kuchiko who plays the seriously handicapped, beautiful daughter, with a
desire for sexual experience that seems to be denied her because of her
handicap, with a heart-aching sensitivity. She is helped along in her
performance by Ińárritu who has crafted a drug scene that makes the
viewers feel that they are on the same trip as Chieko. He even puts the
audience in her shoes, cutting back and forth between the loud,
boisterous party as it is, and then as Chieko sees it without hearing.
While this might not be for everyone, certainly not for the lazy, it is
a brilliant piece of movie-making. It grabs you and doesn’t let go,
requiring the audience to pay attention and think. I didn’t see this in
a media screening, but in a regular showing with real people in the
audience, who seemed so enthralled you could have heard a pin drop
throughout the entire running time.
November 11, 2006