Babel

The Contenders

Release: Oct. 27

Distributor: Paramount Vantage

Oscar Alums: Cate Blanchett (supporting actress, “The Aviator”), Gustavo Santaolalla (score, “Brokeback Mountain”), Stephen Mirrione (editing, “Traffic”), Brigitte Broch (set decoration, “Moulin Rouge!”)

If the goal of a work of art is to elicit strong reactions from viewers, “Babel” certainly qualifies. Its advocates call it brilliant and ambitious; its critics label it contrived and pretentious. There are even some who agree on both counts.

The third and apparently final teaming of helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga was warmly received at Cannes, where it played in competition; Gonzalez Inarritu received director and Ecumenical Jury honors there. Editor Stephen Mirrione received a technical prize.

Pic weaves together four separate but interlocking stories. The same kind of structure impressed the Academy enough to earn “Crash” screenplay and picture honors last year, and, like “Crash,” “Babel” explores the longing for connection and the difficulty of finding it.

“Babel,” though, isn’t set in one city, but on three continents, and its dialogue is in at least four languages. There is no villain in the piece, only people who act from preconceptions without listening to each other.

The script follows two Moroccan boys whose experiments with a rifle lead to tragedy; an American couple on a Moroccan vacation who find themselves in a crisis; the couple’s nanny and children back in California, who take a trip to Mexico that ends in disaster; and a traumatized Japanese deaf girl trying to lose her virginity.

Tragedy, crisis, disaster, trauma — yet “Babel” is not entirely bleak. Its characters find consolation in family, and that message, though subtle, gives the film a quietly hopeful ending.

The ensemble cast has no leads, but almost every significant cast member will get a push for supporting kudos. Brad Pitt and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett bring both star power and depth to their roles as Americans wrestling with a personal crisis in the midst of mortal danger. Adriana Barraza delivers a complex turn as the Mexican-American nanny juggling too many obligations. Rinko Kikuchi, however, as the Japanese girl, gives what may be the pic’s bravest and most Oscar-friendly performance.

Film should contend in below-the-line categories as well. Pic depends on the editing by Mirrione and Douglas Crise, and they are likely to be noticed for it. Lensing by Rodrigo Prieto gives a markedly different look to each locale, while keeping a unified feel. Gustavo Santaolalla’s score is also likely to be in contention.

Gonzalez Inarritu and Arriaga have made three films together, but a dispute over this one led to their bitter split. “Amores perros” and “21 Grams” were widely admired, but the Acad didn’t reward their creators.

“Babel’s” passionate supporters could make it the pic that finally earns them their own nominations.

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