After the Oscar winner “La La Land”, Damien Chazelle returns this Wednesday, January 18 with his fifth feature film, “Babylon”. Here are three reasons to run to the cinema to discover this masterful river film on the beginnings of Hollywood.
Three hours and nine minutes. Let those who fear a film that is too long be reassured: the long-awaited “Babylon”, at the cinema this Wednesday, January 18, is going at breakneck speed. Six years after “La La Land”, which starred Emma Stone and Ryan Goslingand for which he notably received theBest Director Oscar in 2017, Damien Chazelle signs a brilliant, audacious, abundant, brutal and disproportionate fresco on the Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s, or when silent cinema was about to give way to talkies. A period as glorious as it was cruel and devastating, which crushed a myriad of stars and reduced to nothing the dreams of young leaders who quickly burned their wings in contact with crooked and unscrupulous producers.
Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey Maguire… a dream cast for an ambitious project
To embody this crazy story he had been thinking about for fifteen years, Damien Chazelle has assembled a cast as spectacular and monumental as his work with a big budget of 80 million dollars. A five-star cast that we come across from the 20-minute introductory scene not to be missed (advice to latecomers who hang around the popcorn machine for too long). It is indeed in an extraordinary party organized at the home of a whimsical billionaire, that the protagonists of “Babylon” will see their destinies intertwine.
When BABYLON takes over the Grand Rex for an evening
— Paramount Pictures France (@paramountfr) January 16, 2023
Among them, the sulphurous and fiery Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) stardom-seekers, Manny Torres (Diego Calva), an immigrant-turned-assistant who dreams of breaking into Hollywood, and silent film star Jack Conrad inspired by stars John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino who really existed. And who better than brad pitt to embody this charismatic man who triggers the hysteria of his fans at each of his appearances, but who hides a great vulnerability? At almost 60 years old, the actor is at the top of his game and delivers a self-deprecating game. The performance of Tobey Maguire in the skin of James McKay is also worth the detour. He portrays a chilling and psychopathic casino boss that we would not like to meet, even in his worst nightmares.
A declaration of love for cinema enhanced by a rhythmic soundtrack
Sex, drugs and cinema… “Babylon” stands out from “La La Land” with its totally assumed outrageous aesthetic and its orgiastic scenes. But this colorful show where the stars chain shootings and hangovers, pays, like its elder, a strong homage to the 7th art, not without a touch of nostalgia. “Love at first sight”, “Let’s sing in the rain”, “A star is born”, “The rules of the game”, “Apocalypse Now” or even “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” – which already brought together Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt – the references are numerous. Note that Damien Chazelle, who at 37 confirms his status as a prodigy, insisted that “the sets and places be as real and authentic as possible”.
To do this, the Franco-American director shot on 35 mm film and Cinemascope, hired dozens of extras and stuntmen for the fight scenes and crazy parties, and collaborated again with Justin Hurwitz, who comes also to win a Golden Globe for the soundtrack. A rhythmic, energetic and percussive music that contributes to a successful editing. “We wanted to endow ‘Babylon’ with a musical universe of its own, a sound that was not so anachronistic that it took the viewer out of the 1920s, but also far removed from the usual depiction of quaint jazz of that decade” , says the composer. For fans, the soundtrack is available on all platforms here.
An acerbic portrait of the current Hollywood industry
With “Babylon”, which was imagined to be seen on the big screen, Damien Chazelle wants to prove that cinema is not dead, that it can even be lifesaving provided you understand the changes. And to assume the losses and the consequences. Through this gallery of characters that oscillates between glory and decadence, the director dissects a rapidly changing society that echoes the current film industry, faced with the emergence of platforms or a global pandemic that has put some halted productions and disrupted leisure consumption patterns.
Is creativity today at the service of profitability, as was the case with the advent of sound? This is one of the subjects broached implicitly in this tragicomedy. “Hollywood went through a series of rapid changes, seemingly cataclysmic for its time, in the 1920s. Some people escaped unscathed, but many did not. In contemporary terms, we would call this a rupture, emphasizes Damien Chazelle. Los Angeles grew from a mostly rural desert city in the early 1920s to one of the world’s largest megacities by the end of the decade. A city of Angels that still fascinates as much as it frightens.