Volume 76, Number 24 | November 1 - 7, 2006

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Babel” (-)
This is not a first-rate film but one that other critics might assign 2 ½ stars. I never recommend such films, although I do occasionally see them if I am interested in a particular actor or if the plot sounds intriguing.  

The title comes from the fact that several languages are spoken and many people are not able to understand one another. The movie is made up of three short stories, all of which are very sad. 

The first involves Susan (Cate Blanchett) and her husband, Richard (Brad Pitt), an American couple vacationing in Morocco. While riding on a tour bus in the desert, Susan is shot. The gun is owned by a farmer, Abdullah (Mustapha Rachidi), who gave the weapon to his two adolescent sons, Yussef (Boubker Ait El Caid) and Ahmed (Said Tarchani), to protect his goats from jackals. The couple, fellow tourists and the townspeople worry that Susan will die before help arrives. 

The second tale relates to the couple’s two children, Mike (Nathan Gamble) and Debbie (Elle Fanning), who are being cared for at their Southern California home by their Mexican nanny, Amelia (Adriana Barraza). Amelia takes the children to Mexico with her to attend her son’s wedding. Her intoxicated nephew, Santiago (Gael Garcia Bernal), drives her back to California after the celebration. He argues with the U.S. border guards, which results in a car chase and Amelia and the children wandering the desert on foot.  The question is will they survive or succumb to dehydration.  

The third plot involves a deaf Japanese teenager in Tokyo, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), who recently suffered the loss of her mother. She acts out her grief by seeking to have sex with the men she meets, one of whom is a detective she believes is investigating her mother’s death. 

The acting of everyone is quite good. Because the theater was crowded, I had to sit in the third row, which I will never do again. Looking up at distorted images is not the best way to view a film. I hope the seating did not affect my review, but when the lights went on, I did not feel as though I had an entertaining evening. The script simply didn’t do it for me. 

“Sweet Land” (-)
As I watched the story unfold, I recalled the novels that I read in high school written by Willa Cather, who was considered one of America’s great storytellers. Like her books, the setting of this movie is the Midwest.

A German immigrant, Inge (Elizabeth Reaser), travels west having agreed to marry a Norwegian farmer, Olaf (Tim Guinee). She meets the shy farmer for the first time at the train station. Because the U.S. is at war with Germany, the local minister (John Heard) and the community are against the marriage. Until they wed, Inge lives with Olaf’s good friend, Frandsen (Alan Cumming), his wife and their eight children. Reaser reminded me of a younger Julia Roberts and Cumming’s mannerisms and gait made me think of an elf. The performances of the cast are okay but certainly not outstanding.  

If this story had been broadcast on the radio, listeners would have filled in the voids with their imagination. Movies and television shows today, however, spell out details for us on the screen and throw in some intimate scenes for good measure. This movie opts for the stark aspects of storytelling but eliminates both details and sex. In my opinion, “Sweet Land” is a boring film and a waste of time for everyone except the purists. The starkness of the gleaming corn fields and scenes of geese flying in V formations overhead will satisfy them, but I don’t think they will satisfy most audiences.

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