Damien Chazelle’s rowdy hymn to the Golden Age of Hollywood

After its debut in December 2022, in the U.S., Babylon, will hit Italian cinemas on January 19, 2023: we are quite sure that new Damien Chazelle’s film, will not meet the universal acclaim dedicated to La La Land (2016). However, the American director returns to the themes of the Oscar-winning film (even if from a different perspective) with a work with flaws and qualities.

Babylon is a long and rowdy film that stars Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and Diego Calva as the leading characters of an A-list ensemble cast (Jean Smart, Jovan Adepo, Spike Jonze, Olivia Wilde, Max Minghella and Tobey Maguire among the others).

Set in Los Angeles in the 1920s, Babylon is a rowdy hymn to the Golden Age of Hollywood and follows the three characters as they transition from silent films to talking pictures, with a short landing in the 1950s: Jack Conrad (Pitt) is a famous actor, Nellie LaRoy (Robbie) is an aspiring actress, Manuel “Manny” Torres (Calva) is young Mexican who dreams of working in the cinema industry, even if he doesn’t know exactly what to do. Their stories meet at Don Wallach’s extravagant party, attended by all the people who matter in Hollywood.

Manny falls in love with Nellie at first sight, but she is doesn’t have time for love, because she was born to be a movie star. When a girl at the party passes out, after using drugs, Nellie is chosen play her role on the set of a film. Manny has a different, but somewhat similar fate: after driving a drunk Jack Conrad home, he earns his trust and starts working in films as his handyman. 

Nellie finally becomes a silent film star, but her torments will put her fame into question. In the meantime, the screening of The Jazz Singer (1927), the first sound film from Warner Bros., makes the competitors quiver: with everyone captured by novelty, Jack Conrad’s career gradually comes to end and marks the beginning of Manny’s dream, who finally gets noticed and becomes Head of Sound in a production company.

Chazelle puts on the “Babylon” of cinema, a place between reality and fiction, where talent, authentic passion, profiteering and other monstrosities live side by side. The characters’ lives collide with the darkest aspects of entertainment and their human and professional destiny will have different outcomes.

Babylon – Margot Robbie. Credits/ Scott Garfield – Paramount Pictures

In Babylon, Chazelle once again shows his familiarity with the cinematic medium, managing some complex choral scenes. In the universe created by the director, there is room for all the people who revolve around the industry: filmmakers, actors, producers, journalists, technicians, handymen. Everyone brings his contribution to a collective but temporary rêverie, which exists in the time of fiction, fascinating those who are part of it.

However, Babylon is not a “viewer-pleaser”: it is a poetic and coarse film, where elegance coexists with vulgarity. Everything is done on purpose, designed for that title and the pompous dimension it is meant to recreate.

Chazelle’s courage is rewarded by Margot Robbie’s versatility and Brad Pitt’s credible performance, but the true leading character is Diego Calva: the actor of Narcos: Mexico, is naive and intense, measured when the role requires it and his performance will be remembered.

Babylon is not a film for everyone: more than once viewers will think there should have been cuts here and there. However, in the finale, everything makes sense: in its brutal and brazen nature, Babylon is good exactly as it is, because it never aims to be perfect. 

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