Coming to cinemas is perhaps the most lavish and bombastic film of 2022. Babylon is the latest film from celebrated director Damien Chazelle. Starring Diego Calva, Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt this story follows several individuals as they traverse this business we call show business during a pivotal moment in cinematic history.
The film follows Manuel ‘Manny’ Tores (Calva) on one auspicious night at a one-of-a-kind Hollywood party. He is one of the staff and is trying to keep everything under some level of control. Between deranged drunks, orgies and elephants he is finding it tough. This is where he meets Nelly (Robbie) as she tries to get into this wild party. He helps her in and together they discuss their dreams over some cocaine. Meanwhile, we are also introduced to the seasoned pro, Jack Conrad (Pitt). He is a staple at these parties and has quite the night.
The day after all of them find themselves on set doing various things. Each has a fascinating adventure throughout the day. From there the film follows them and several other characters as they become a part of a historical moment in Hollywood, the transition from silent to sound films.
You’ll live in eternity with angels and ghosts
Babylon to me is an utterly bonkers and bizarre film about the beauty of cinema and how it means something to so many. It is filled with absolutely absurd figures and yet there is something oddly familiar about them. It’s easy to be a dreamer but when you get that dream what then? It’s a question I believe the film puts forward as it starts so passionately.
The party scene that all the characters can be found within is a masterpiece in chaos. It is visually sumptuous and utterly astounding. So much is going on and every part of it is telling a story that you wish to know. From the introduction of Li Jun Li as the femme fatale, Lady Fau Zhu to the magnetic Margot Robbie dancing to exhaustion and beyond there is so much to take in within the first 40 minutes of Babylon.
A particularly moving section of Babylon all centres around the production process of several films. Manny, Jack and Nelly are involved in some of them and watching the sheer chaos unfold is honestly breathtaking. It is one of my favourite moments in cinema this year.
On top of the gorgeous cinematography laying out all these beautiful scenes, this film has the best score of 2022. I still find myself humming the tune every couple of hours. It’s powerful and so eccentric in its personality. There’s a frenzied energy behind it that is unforgettable. I honestly couldn’t praise the score more.
The acting of Babylon is also stellar. Margot Robbie is giving an award-worthy performance as Nelly, this cartoonish character who wants everyone’s attention even if it ruins her. Her journey is somewhat predictable but her performance keeps you engaged. Another standout is newcomer Diego Calva. He’s giving a lot of the heavy lifting as he is the straight man and has to react to these larger than life personalities and he delivers his performance as the dreamer falling for the wrong girl with a plum. As usual, Pitt is simply charming, giving a subdued but affable man who hopes he is still relevant in this new age. Along with these three leads, there are also several other figures in the film that each have standout moments. As I stated before when Li Jun Li is onscreen you pay attention.
Jean Smart has one particular moment late in the film that genuinely disturbed me with its beauty and bluntness. And rounding off these powerful performers is Jovan Adepo as Sydney Palmer. He has one scene where he says nothing but his silence says volumes. It’s a testament to the material as well as the actors.
It’s bigger than you
If I had issues they would come in the third act. I thought that the story didn’t quite know where to end and with such a strong first and second act I was disappointed with the third act. Thankfully the ending was still quite moving.
Ultimately the film feels like it has something to say about the status of cinema and I’m not sure if it is saying it in a passionate or angry fashion. The optimist in me would like to air on the former rather than the latter.
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