MOVIE REVIEW – Anyone looking for an in-depth exploration of Hollywood’s Golden Age of cinema or a nuanced, moving character study of the lives within that early era will be most disappointed by Damien Chazelle’s latest film. Babylon is an extremely witty, bombastic, at times a little heavy-handed and overwrought comedy opera instead, at times characterized by an overabundance of deliberate bad taste and directorial brashness – but it is also the reason why it will remain with the viewer after it has left the cinema.
You may know the joke about the man in the bar who, when asked why he is in such a bad mood, tells you that he spends all day sweeping elephant dung in the circus. “Then quit!” – they advise him. “And quit showbiz?” he replies.
We wonder whether writer/director Damien Chazelle had this old gag in mind when he shot the scene near the beginning of Babylon, where a poor lackey pushing a truck up a hill is showered with elephant dung. This scene serves as a poignant visual metaphor for the film’s dirty image of 1920s Hollywood, where the “lower” employees are literally shat on. (And the “high” ones are vomited on and peed on, but that’s another story. ) In this opening scene and elsewhere, Babylon shows the depths to which those who are utterly seduced by the world of the dream factory will sink if they want to get anywhere near the dazzling star world.
Like moths to a flame, our heroes are drawn to the world of Hollywood
Chazelle follows the stories of three different such characters through three extremely spectacular, frenetic, and traumatic hours, irresistibly drawn to the dazzling world of Hollywood. One of them is Nellie (Margot Robbie), a self-proclaimed diva at first, another is Sidney (Jovan Adepo), a talented African-American trumpeter, and the third is Manny (Diego Calva), a soulful Mexican dreamer.
And the fourth protagonist is a long time in the dream factory. He is hedonistic silent film superstar Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt), whose days are as numbered as the quiet, syrupy romances he stars in. The parties, premieres, and often ill-fated shoots are a spectacular and professional evocation of a compelling vision of Hollywood’s golden age, separated from decadence and decay only by a cocaine binge.
A celebration of classic cinema
Filled with incredibly raunchy and scandalous parties, epic crowd scenes from the set, and extended, strange scenes that give us a glimpse into the dark underbelly of Los Angeles, the film is also a celebration of the world of classic cinema, culminating in an extraordinary psychedelic montage of the evolution of the moving image.
One thing that even the harshest critics cannot deny Chazelle: is the incredible ambition of the young director, who has done his utmost to recreate the immensely debauched and extremely colorful world of Hollywood in the 1920s. True, at times, one might wish he could take a breather; there is no slacking off here, and at the heart of it all is a wild, exuberant, stunningly professional performance by Margot Robbie that would make even Harley Quinn look comatose. When she needs to, she dazzles men in sexy outfits overheated by cocaine; at other times, she takes her bread from a more famous but soured Hollywood diva by hardening her nipples with cold water and pulling up her skirt, and when all that’s still not enough, she even gets into a fight with a rattlesnake!
It’s a pity that the role of the black professional trumpeter Adepo in this long film seems so perfunctory, even though the part of the African-American musician forced to wear humiliating make-up deserves much more than the little screen time he gets.
A love letter to Hollywood
But apart from this glitch, Damien Chazelle’s film is a real wry, extravagant, crazy love letter to Hollywood in the twenties, with incredible vision, atmosphere, and great characters in a wild, crazy, amazing world. While the film is far from flawless, anyone interested in this era and a taste for artfully “enchanted” films should not miss the French/American director’s latest film.
Direction - 8.2
Actors - 9.2
Story - 7.6
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 8.4
Hangulat - 8.2
Damien Chazelle's film is a real wry, extravagant, crazy love letter to Hollywood in the twenties, with incredible vision, atmosphere, and great characters in a wild, crazy, amazing world. While the film is far from flawless, anyone interested in this era and a taste for artfully "enchanted" films should not miss the French/American director's latest film.
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