babylondirected by Damien Chazelle, director of La La Land, immerses you in the Hollywood of the 1920s.
Unhook the moon… And if all of Damien Chazelle’s filmography since his second film (Whiplash) came down to this unique and heady obsession, and not only when it came to approaching it “for real” as on First Man, his real-fake Neil Armstrong biopic? Damien Chazelle likes allegories, not to say that he is stuffed with them, and those who might have thought that he had had enough of them with La La Land will be at their expense, in the mouth or not.
The link with the multi-Oscar-winning peregrinations of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is anything but fortuitous, beyond a “return to Los Angeles” and a musical score again entrusted to Justin Hurwitz. Impossible, for example, not to draw a parallel, even furtive, between the opening scenes of the two films, symbolizing by themselves or not far the whirlwind, as real as it is phantasmagorical, that the megalopolis has always been able to inspire-generate Californian. Barely did Chazelle leave the wild romanticism he had draped in La La Land when he activated his own time machine and planted his cameras in 1920s Hollywood, and the transition that took place between silent cinema and talking cinema.
In more ways than one, and as its… title suggests, babylon is an orgy. A constant orgy. Orgy of means to retrace this particular era and its context of “anything goes, anything is possible”, and which explodes in the face on the famous decadent party opening scene with a guest star elephant – and what would not have denied a Baz Luhrmann – or on the stunning reenactments of filming in the Californian desert. Orgy in the narration of excesses of all kinds, in which each protagonist delights until the difficult tomorrows, both literally and figuratively.
In this dive into the Hollywood past which was looking for its voice, in the literal sense here, Chazelle has already been accused of settling with the truth, the veracity, and this while many situations and characters rely on the real, a form of the real in any case, the better to escape from it. Thus, and in order to stick only to the main roles, Nellie LaRoy (magnified by a Margot Robbie who literally “volcanizes” each of the many scenes in which she appears) seems to resurrect the thwarted fate of Clara Blow, while Jack Conrad (impeccable Brad Pitt) and his pencil mustache refer to a curious “mixture” of John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks, when other filming scenes of the first speakers – and their technical difficulties – do not turn into a quasi-documentary. Obviously again, Chazelle went to draw from a more glaucous reality in the always staggering and timeless reading of the Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger, even if it means retaining only what suited his purpose.
Since everything had to be show already at that time, Chazelle takes the watchword to the letter. But his greatest achievement is knowing how to communicate the pleasure he has clearly derived from it.
Check out this review from babylon and many others in Rolling Stone n°149, available in preorder.
Realization : Damien Chazelle
- Brad PittJack Conrad
- Margot RobbieNellie LaRoy
- Diego Calva: Manny Torres
- Jean Smart: Elinor St. John
- Jovan Adepo: Sidney Palmer
- Li Jun Li as Lady Fay Zhu
- PJ Byrne: Max
- Lukas HaasGeorge Munn
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CINEMA: Saloum, by Jean-Luc Herbulot
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