MANIFESTO

#63

CHANGE OF SPACE

BABYLON

2023.01.31

Damien Chazelle’s new film is a story of boundless ambition and outrageous excess, retracing the rise and fall of multiple characters in an era of unbridled decadence and depravity in early 20s Hollywood. 

Damien Chazelle, already Oscar winner for best director with the film La La Land, returns to movie theaters with a memorable new tale that leads the spectator through the excesses of 20s Los Angeles, Babylon. The award-winning author came to the film’s production after fifteen years of hard, intense research to recreate that famous dirty, toxic Hollywood that so many have removed from their memories or would not tell. From a small, dusty town it transforms, perhaps too quickly, into a giant megalopolis.The director and his crew ventured beyond the center of town in search of the real Los Angeles, not the built-up one that we all know, to get a 360-degree view of what the now metropolis was and looked like. Exploring into the rural landscape, among the bare streets of the suburbs, they find buildings, mansions and architecture dating back to the 1920: the world that Chazelle built for years finally appears real. In that place touched by sin, consisting at that time of criminals and immigrants, a stellar cast moves in, including Brad Pitt as Jack and Margot Robbie as Nellie, already seen together in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film offers a overview into the society of the time, those who worked in the silent film industry and the extreme parties of that time, which Damien Chazelle also shows with a certain nostalgia. In his narrative he can freely express, thanks to the support of Paramount, a new face of the metropolis that everyone knows, the one more provocative and scandalous. In fact, the director is conscious of upsetting the audience, causing them discomfort in watching some strong impact scenes.

Margot Robbie in Babylon.

“From glory they sink to hell, from the excess of comedy the film veers toward tragedy and horror.” 

– Damien Chazelle

The film is composed by six main characters and many others secondary or in the background. Margot Robbie came into her own, fully understanding the part of Nellie LaRoy: inspired by the great sex symbol of the era Clara Bow, she is young, wild, and hungry for success. In order to achieve her goals she is ready for anything: the first scene with which the public know her, she travels in her car crashing into a statue, symbolizing how she has the courage to go against everything and everyone in order to achieve herself. Manny Torres, on the other hand, played by Diego Calva, is in Hollywood because he is trying to find his way in filmmaking: without caring too much about what he has to go and do, but with the only ambition to enter this complex world. Brad Pitt, in the film Jack Conrad, is the silent film star of those years: although he is different from the present day, the actor make the part real because enriching the character with his personal experiences as a real star, so that the audience could also see his emotions and a strong sense of humanity. The research and study of the characters is meticulous and accurate: in each of them are found aspects that belong to the director, creating a profile that in the eyes of the audience seems to have really existed. In fact, watching Babylon one gets the feeling that each of them has a life that shines through beyond the frame, as is most often the case in written novels. 

Margot Robbie in Babylon.
Brad Pitt in Babylon.

“I wanted to show what was under the surface, between hope and broken dreams.”

– Damien Chazelle

The uncontrolled decadence Chazelle wants to portray in Babylon is best rendered during the first sequence that immortalizes a party at a Hollywood producer’s mansion, which became iconic even before the film’s release: a shocking beginning, with bodies writhing and crossing each other showing the wild spirit of celebrity at that time. Throughout all the scenes in the film, there is an bivalente alternation, the lens moves on from drugs and sex at a late-night party to quieter moments of solitude, from the decadent houses and extravagant cars of the stars to the rough poverty that depicted the Los Angeles landscape; music play a key role: the soundtrack is an integral part of the film and contributes to the director’s need to bring to life a story of excess, speed, and madness. The exaggeration of the 20s is rendered in the film through situations of chaos alternating with intimate scenes between the characters and through post production, creating contrast between interior and exterior by drastically increasing and decreasing exposure. Damien Chazelle succeeds in depicting 20s Hollywood in a way never seen before, presenting the events of a series of off-the-wall characters who work during the day and play at night, creating outrageous scenes certainly able to awaken the audience’s spirits. 

 

Watch the trailer here.

Jovan Adepo in Babylon.
Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in Babylon.
Margot Robbie in Babylon.

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