Review Babylon – Review on FilmTotaal
Director: Damian Chazelle | Screenplay: Damian Chazelle | Cast: Margot Robbie (Nellie LaRoy), Brad Pitt (Jack Conrad), Diego Calva (Manny Torres), Jean Smart (Elinor St. John), Jovan Adepo (Sydney Palmer), Li Jun Li (Lady Fay Zhu), ea | Time to play: 189 minutes | Year: 2022
The film year 2023 has just woken up, but it remains to be seen if we will see as dazzling an orgy of images this year as in Damien Chazelles’ first half hour. Babylon. We see a hedonistic Hollywood party in the 1920s. There are trucks full of coke for you to smell, Josephine Baker-esque dancers seduce the crowd, there’s open sex and, yes, we see a dwarfed entertainer jumping on a huge penis-shaped jumper ejaculating on the public. .
Before the release of his three-hour epic, Chazelle stated that he wanted to portray the extremely excessive and extravagant lifestyles of the leading representatives of the world of cinema. It can be safely said that she was successful. Before the party on a hill in Los Angeles, we see an elephant trainer dragging its trunk up a hill. When the chain on the truck breaks, we’re treated to a shot that’s hard to place at first. It turns out to be a close-up of an elephant’s anus spilling its intestinal contents onto the trainer.
That works. Babylon is set in the early days of the “golden age” of Hollywood. It was not only a period when nothing was too crazy, but also when movie stars had almost the status of gods. It was also the time when the transition to ‘talkie’ had to be made. Not all movie stars had a sweet voice, so not all made the switch. It’s a dramatic fact that served as the theme song in Billy Wilders sunset boulevard. and as comic relief Singing in the rain. Chazelle cheekily refers to the latter title; subtle at first, then very explicit.
Babylon It’s about three stories, which sometimes have a hard time staying up against the loud, cacophonous soundtrack of Chazelle’s resident composer, Justin Hurwitz. The biggest star is Margot Robbie, whose Nellie LaRoy ends up on the film set as an unknown star after a fatal accident at the aforementioned house party. She can cry when ordered as many times as she wishes by the director, and she grows into a giant star until the obscene image of her begins to play tricks on her.
Brad Pitt plays a movie star who is determined to maintain his popularity with the advent of talkies. For a long time, he still manages to keep everyone around his finger, but the waning interest in his person only slowly sinks, both for him and for the viewer. Finally, we see the Mexican Manny Torres who goes from being a jack of all trades to a successful man in the world of cinema.
The three characters kick off that party on that Hollywood hill. Chazelle displays an unprecedented sense of aesthetics, drama and show business reminiscent of the work of Baz Luhrmann and Paolo Sorrentino. It’s a wild hurricane that rises up and never really dies down as a result. Babylon it is an endless orgasm, the sensation of which is pleasant at first, but eventually becomes very exhausting and even painful. Chazelle shows way too much bombast in every conceivable area for that.
Chazelle brings no balance, and furthermore, few resting points in his epic tale of 1920s and 1930s Hollywood. Even when things go downhill for the three main characters, the talented filmmaker allows his audience a few moments of reflection or contemplation. They fall from one situation to another and there is hardly any time to recover from it all. Hurwitz once again offers an unparalleled soundtrack, but some of his songs are flagrant self-plagiarism (we recognize songs from the the earth) or borrowed neighbor (the famous bolero by Maurice Ravel).
The full three hours of playtime can be passed with delight, interest, and open-mouthedness, if only because the opening seems to provide enough energy for this immense exercise. This eventually becomes tiring because it is hard work to process all the visual and auditory impressions. The filmmaker is to be commended for making no concessions and showing just how outrageous and even downright racist and narrow-minded Hollywood was. Tragic examples of this are the act of the lesbian Lady Zhu and a famous trumpet player whose face was not yet dark enough and is allowed to wear blackface for a while.
It’s mainly these smaller stories that evoke the emotion that the three main characters should have delivered. Chazelle once again proves to be a gifted filmmaker with a unique signature, but she could have cut a bit more on the editing table. Sometimes excess hurts.