La Babel bête


This is the latest of Iñárritu’s series of films in which unrelated characters are linked by a road accident, here involving a tourist bus in the Moroccan desert and a stray bullet. I’m starting to feel that the multithread, jangled-chronology thing has not only lost its originality and surprise value, it kind of undermines the potency of each individual story. Still, out of the recent outflow of such pictures, which includes Crash and Syriana, this is by far the most effective. It also surpasses the two aforementioned titles in the depiction of a post-9/11 world of heightened racial tensions and political turmoil, the all too actual issues of “illegal” Mexicans in the US and of violence (and the repression of such) in the Middle East being very movingly dramatized. And then there’s the kinky Japanese teen comedy, which completes the film’s triptych thematically by, um… Your guess is as good as mine! Throwing a drastically different in tone and style storyline about a horny deaf-mute schoolgirl who enjoys flashing her bush (!) into a harrowing drama doesn’t make any sense to me but on its own, that part of the film is a lot of trippy fun and ultimately moving, too. All in all, this is a return to the brilliance of Amores Perros after the muddled 21 grams.


Here’s a movie that’s easy to hate. Heck, it practically dares you not to hate it! But twisted as I am, I liked it anyway. Oh, it’s definitely uneven, heavy and rough around the edges, but there is some damn ballsy filmmaking in there and a pitch-dark sense of humor that I responded to. Think of a gangbang between Lynch, Bergman and Cronenberg and you might get an idea of how odd the film is. The dynamic at its centre is neatly established in the opening series of wordless shots, where we instantly understand the relationships between the three main characters through their body language. Adapted by Marie-Christine Blais from her first novel, this is the story of a young woman who’s violently jealous of the symbiotic, incestuous love shared by her brother and their mother.

The storytelling is bumpy and the dialogue can be too literary, especially coming from the always affected Carole Laure, but fortunately Hussain’s also got the two best young Quebec actors to work with, Marc-André Grondin and Caroline Dhavernas, whose charisma cuts through the occasional stuffiness of the picture like a knife. Dhavernas is supposed to be an ugly duckling, all crazed and disturbed, but while it works to a degree, her charm and beauty still shine through. Grondin’s character could have been better defined, but he brings a welcomed balance of intensity and vulnerability to it. Altogether, “La belle bête” is not perfect by any means; it’s a bit too artsy-fartsy for horror fans, and the gore and surreal flourishes (hello, Mr. Horseman!) will turn off the poor souls looking for another family drama à la C.R.A.Z.Y. But if you take it as a dark comedy à la “Visitor Q”, you might have as much fun watching it as I did.