Cate Blanchett in ‘Babel’

This week we tackle one of Cate Blanchett’s weirdest roles, that of an injured American tourist traveling in Morocco in Babel (2006). To discuss Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film and Blanchett’s penchant to sometimes take on small supporting parts, Murtada welcomes to the podcast Zita Short, critic for InSession Film and Jumpcut Online and host of The 300 Passions Podcast.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB:  Tragedy strikes a married couple on vacation in the Moroccan desert, touching off an interlocking story involving four different families.

Who does Cate play?

Susan Jones, an American tourist who gets injured during a trip to Morocco. 

What year did it come out?

2006

Box Office: US= $34MM Outside US = $101MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 69    RT: 69 

Cate Blanchett with Brad Pitt on the set of Babel

Topics Discussed:

  • The films of Alejandro González Iñárritu which include Amores Perros, Biutiful, 21 Grams, Birdman and The Revenant.
  • Cate and Brad Pitt – made two films together in quick succession. See also The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). What do we think of them as a screen couple? 
  • The theme of globalization – how people are treated in  “foreign lands,” the Americans in Morocco vs. the Mexicans in the US.
  • Linking the separate stories together by the end is something Iñárritu  loves to do. See also Amores Perros. It feels slightly overengineered.
  • Weird role for Cate; she spends almost the entire movie on the floor of a hut in Morocco.
  • Babel was an Oscar success with nominations for best film and best director (the year The Departed and Martin Scorses won). Also nominated were the performances from Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.
  • Are Cate and Brad playing “ugly Americans” abroad? The film does not shy away from presenting them as entitled despite the circumstances that they are in.
  • Lots of familiar faces in the cast. Harriett Walter, young Elle Fanning, Clifton Collins Jr and Michael Pena. Kōji Yakusho from Koreda’s The Third Murder.
  • Babel vs. Crash –  many reviews made the comparison perhaps because of the multiple story lines. Babel is weirder, less sentimental.
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a scene from Babel

Film within context of Cate’s career:

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Veronica Guerin’

This week we go back to Cate Blanchett’s early career and another one of her “titular” roles, playing Irish journalist Veronica Guerin (2003). To discuss Joel Schumacher’s film, Murtada welcomes illustrator and designer Dash Silva to the podcast. This wide ranging conversation also covers Blue Jasmine, The Aviator, the accent work of Meryl Streep and a few of this year’s best actress awards contenders including Lady Gaga, Jessica Chastain and Kristen Stewart.

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What is the film about?

From Wikipedia: The film’s about Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, whose investigation into the drug trade in Dublin led to her murder in 1996, at the age of 37.

Who does Cate play? Veronica Guerin – another one of her “titular” roles.

How is Cate introduced? 2 mins in court defending herself as a reckless driver. It’s an exciting prelude before the film goes back 2 years to tell the story.

What year did it come out? 2003

Box Office: US $1.5MM, rest of the world $ 7.8MM Critical Response: Metacritic: 55 RT: 53

Ciaran Hinds and Cate Blanchett in Veronica Guerin

Topics Discussed:

  • Guerin is a major figure in Ireland, the film came just a few years after her murder and tries to capture the legend.
  • A clear good vs. evil narrative. Does it get at the complexity of the story?
  • The portrayal of Guerin as dogged, focused, intimidating and intimidated, brave and frightened. Many notes for Cate to play.
  • An odd choice for Joel Schumacher or is it? He seems to make many different genres of film. Best known for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, he also directed a musical (The Phantom of the Opera), thrillers (8MM and Falling Down), melodramas (Dying Young and Flawless) and even a rom-com (Cousins). This is his Erin Brockovich.
  • Since Cate does an Irish accent here let’s pit her against the Accent Queen; Meryl Streep. Irish (Dancing at Lughnasa), Italian (The Bridges of Madison County vs. Cate actual Italian in Heaven ), English (Plenty vs. Notes on a Scandal).
  • Brief interlude about Cate’s performances in The Man Who Cried, The Aviator and Blue Jasmine.
  • Oscar winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot) and current Oscar hopeful Ciaran Hinds (Befast) are in the cast. Plus a Colin Farrell cameo ( a meta joke since they talk about Eric Cantana who’s in Elizabeth). 
  • Brief mentions of Cate’s two films out now in release; Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up.
  • This year’s best actress hopefuls; Lady Gaga in House of Gucci, Kristen Stewart in Spencer and Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

What critics said at the time:

Cate Blanchett plays Guerin in a way that fascinated me for reasons the movie probably did not intend. I have a sneaky suspicion that director Joel Schumacher and his writers (Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue) think of this as a story of courage and determination, but what I came away with was a story of bone-headed egocentrism. There are moments when Guerin seems so wrapped up in her growing legend and giddy with the flush of the hunt that she barely notices her patient husband, who seems quite gentle, under the circumstances, in his suggestions that she consider the danger she’s in and think of their child.Roger Ebert.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • 2003 was a busy year for Blanchett, see also The Missing, Coffee and Cigarettes and her 3rd time as Galadriel in LOTR:The Return of the King.
  • 2003 was the last year of her wilderness era post Elizabeth (1998) when her movies didn’t seem to connect. The year after she appears in The Aviator and for the next 4 years she’ll have a great run.  

Further Reading:

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Nightmare Alley’

Cate Blanchett is back in cinemas this holiday season. And the podcast is back for a final season of episodes. We kick things off with the first of the two Cate movies coming out this month, Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. For this conversation Murtada welcomes film critic Leila Latif, to discuss the film, how it differs from 1947 version, and the performances of Cate as a femme fatale, Rooney Mara, Bradley Cooper and Toni Colette.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, with a screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Kim Morgan, adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel. 

Who does Cate play?

Lilith Ritter, a psychologist with a dark past and hidden agenda, who holds the key to the events unraveling in the film.

How is Cate introduced?

About an hour into the 2 and half hour movie, in shadows in a nightclub. A real movie star introduction.

Topics discussed:

  • A bleak noir within Del Toro’s obsessions; only this time the monsters are human and there are no supernatural elements 
  • The arc of Stan’s character as played by Bradley Cooper.
  • Cate as noir femme fatale – delivered on the promise of The Good German.
  • This is another of Blanchett’s oh so glamorous roles.
  • Because of the genre (noir) and period (1940s) Blanchett’s performance has been compared to the stars of Hollywood Golden Age. Does she remind us of any in particular?
  • The chemistry between Blanchett and Cooper.
  • The all star cast, who makes an impression? Rooney Mara, Toni Colette, Willem Dafoe, David Strathairn, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen…… etc.
  • The crafts – the production design (Lilith’s office, the carnival), costumes, lush cinematography (does it fit the genre?) 
  • This version vs the 1947 version.
  • The 1st half vs the 2nd – there seems to be a clear divide and a clear favorite with those who watched so far 
  • Does the film have full frontal nudity? It’s “blink and miss it,” but it’s there and in these cinema puritanical times I appreciated it.
  • We rank Nightmare Alley within Del Toro’s filmography and Cate’s.
  • *********SPOILERS********* Skip between 28.00 and 36.00 if you don’t want to be spoiled*********

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Cate Blanchett in ‘The Man Who Cried’

Glamour! Big Acting ! An Accent! A few hallmarks of Cate Blanchett’s performances that we love are present in Sally Potter’s The Man Who Cried (2001). It’s a commanding star turn that shows Blanchett at her best, and for that the movie is a must-see for every Blanchett fan. We discuss the film and performance. Plus revisit Mrs. America and the show’s chances at the winter TV awards (Golden Globes and SAG).

Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience.

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What is the film about?

From Wikipedia: A Russian Jewish girl (Christina Ricci) is separated from her father in 1927 and escapes to England, where she’s rechristened Suzie. She grows up to be a singer in a Parisian theater populated by a glamorous Russian dancer (Cate Blanchett), an egotistical Italian tenor (John Turturro) and a handsome horseman (Johnny Depp). When the Nazis invade France, however, Suzie’s life is suddenly in danger, and she attempts to flee to the United States, where her father moved years earlier.

Who does Cate play?

Lola, a glamorous Russian dancer.

How is Cate introduced?

20 minutes in as the star attraction amidst a chorus of dancers. after she finishes the dance, she winks directly at the camera and the audience.

What year did it come out?

 Premiered at Venice September 2000. US release May 2001.

Box Office: Domestic = $747K Int’l = $575K

Critical Response: Metacritic : 40 RT: 35

Topics Discussed: The Man Who Cried

  • This movie hardly made a ripple in 2001. It is one of the very few Cate performances that I have never watched until now. Very hard to find…. youtube is your friend (wink).
  • Sally Potter as a distinctly visual filmmaker.
  • One of Cate’s early roles. Does the star quality appear? Of course, in fact this is a must-see for any Cate Blanchett fan because it shows her total command and allure as a screen star.
  • NBR awarded Cate best supporting actress for 2001 body of work including this, LOTR and The Shipping News
  • Again a very physical full bodied performance – a theme we’ve talked about on this podcast. There’s a nervous energy to it though. Lola is always moving, gawky, not graceful like some of her other characterizations.
  • Memorable look; albaster skin, red cherry lipstick, very blond hair – so very noticeable
  • Cate the droll comedian, we dig deep into one scene; when telling the rules of seducing men… “without my looks I wouldn’t have gotten out of Russia.”
  • Lola is a tragic figure . We talk about how Cate makes her so with emphasis on a couple of other scenes.
  • One of a few movies that Christina Ricci headlined – what do we think of her?
  • What’s with all the brooding Johnny Depp on horseback scenes – for a while both he and Ricci are silent in their scenes together.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

2000 – 2001 was the time when the choices she made post her breakout with Elizabeth began appearing for audiences. She chose a few supporting roles; all of them very far from that monarch and one lead role in The Gift (2000); previously discussed.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“Blanchett’s role is the dazzler: Rolling her eyes, shrugging her shoulders and flinging her long limbs about insouciantly, she’s the soul of studiously artificial glamour, whether shimmying in a trashy revue or bewitching an unwary suitor.” – Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide.

“The movie is like a series of climactic moments from a World War II mini-series strung together without the undercurrents that might build character: it’s all big moments, the world’s longest and most sincere trailer. In fact, the title character doesn’t even appear until the end of the picture. (Before that the film should be called ”The Woman Who Cries,” since Ms. Ricci’s trembling chin gets quite a workout.)

With accents heavier than the melodrama going on around them, Ms. Blanchett and Mr. Turturro add comic weight and warmth as two predators sizing each other up before they realize they’re the same species.” – A O Scott, NYTimes.

“Ironically, in the midst of all this high caloric camp, the one performer who escapes with her dignity, Cate Blanchett, does so not by underacting but by getting in full shameless touch with her miscast inner ham. As Lola, a transplanted Moscow gold-digger with a borscht thick accent and lips as glossy red as the inside of a chocolate covered cherry, Blanchett is like Mata Hari played by Gwen Stefani impersonating Veronica Lake. It’s hard to take your eyes off of acting this knowingly overripe.”Owen Gleiberman, EW

Topics Discussed: Mrs. America & miscellaneous

  • Last time we talked Mrs. America was about to be released – our thoughts on the series.
  • Cate’s performance on the show is a major career highlight. Check out our recaps of the show.
  • Awards chances for Cate and the show at the upcoming winter awards (Glden Globes and SAG).
  • Looking forward to Nightmare Alley and her collaboration with Guillermo Del Toro and Bradley Cooper.

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