After his two best works, “Whiplash” and “La La Land,” Chazelle worked on his extensive project, “Babylon,” with a budget of around USD 80 million. All film lovers are certainly waiting with high expectations. This ambitious film stars a series of famous actors, including Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo, and Li Jun Li. Unexpectedly, this film is a flop but is still highly appreciated in prestigious film festivals, such as the Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice Awards, BAFTA, and Academy Awards.

The plot revolves around several fictional characters in Hollywood during the transitional era of silent and talking films in 1926. Manny (Calva) is a young immigrant with ambitions to work in the film industry. Nellie (Robbie) is a young girl who wants to become a movie star. Jack Conrad (Pitt) is a famous silent film star actor who lives a glamorous life. Like Conrad, Fay Zhu (Li) is a big silent film actress of Asian descent. Then, Sidney Palmer (Adepo) is a talented black musician often involved in silent film production. All the characters intersect with one another and show their career journeys and struggles during the transitional era that killed all aspects of silent film production that used to be glorious.

The background story of “Babylon” is familiar to the film medium. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) by Gene Kelly and “The Artist” (2011), directed by Michel Hazanavicius, present industrial problems in this transitional era. In a classy way, these two films present a romantic drama story that is entertaining, evocative, and cinematic. Then “Babylon”? The point is more or less the same, but the “Babylon” script is more dominant in presenting the lifestyle (hedonism) of the characters in a state of wealth and glamour, which is unnecessary. One scene that is very “disgusting” in the opening segment is more than enough. This film feels like disconnected fragments that are not continuous.

The efforts of all the characters to get out of this challenging situation should be explored more deeply. Precisely this point feels only tucked in his “spectacular” moments. As a result, we can never fully empathize and sympathize with all the characters. Almost nothing left an impression in more than three hours apart from the ridiculous actions of the characters. The essence of this tiring story is briefly summarized in one moment when Conrad is in dialogue with the journalist, Elinor. “Your time has passed.” Finally, a “cinematic” ending expected to be evocative just passed without any dramatic moments.

Baca Juga  Ghosted

Apart from the disappointing script, aesthetically, the filmmaker can still use his distinctive aesthetic styles, such as dynamic camera and editing, and of course, music. The montage technique that dominates this film is all beautifully presented, even though the rhythmic editing that became the mainstay of the filmmaker no longer feels dominant. Like “Singin’ in the Rain,” one scene of a talking film production is presented very well to illustrate how frustrated the players and filmmakers are during the process. For technical matters, this film is almost flawless, from beginning to end.

With all the ambition and cinematic stamp of Damien Chazelle, “Babylon” is a tribute to the film industry at the start of talking films in a brutal, vulgar, forceful, and utterly grueling way. Many people might think the same thing. What was Chazelle thinking when making this film? “Whiplash” and “La La Land” have a simple story, and it is clear that the maker’s passion for film and music is there. “Babylon” also has this, but the point is blurred due to the long duration. For observers of film history, the film industry moves dynamically according to the context of its era. Technology can change the film industry in a different direction. Digital and celluloid polemics, even streaming platforms, have the same effect. All the big stars and filmmakers will be lost to the ages, and what will be different is the legacy of their best works. Unfortunately, “Babylon” is not one of them.

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His hobby has been watching films since childhood, and he studied film theory and history autodidactically after graduating from architectural studies. He started writing articles and reviewing films in 2006. Due to his experience, the author was drawn to become a teaching staff at the private Television and Film Academy in Yogyakarta, where he taught Film History, Introduction to Film Art, and Film Theory from 2003 to 2019. His debut film book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2008, which divides film art into narrative and cinematic elements. The second edition of the book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2018. This book has become a favorite reference for film and communication academics throughout Indonesia. He was also involved in writing the Montase Film Bulletin Compilation Book Vol. 1-3 and "30 Best Selling Indonesian Films 2012-2018." Additionally, he authored the "Horror Film Book: From Caligari to Hereditary" (2023) and "Indonesian Horror Film: Rising from the Grave" (2023). Until now, he continues to write reviews of the latest films at and is actively involved in all film productions at the Montase Film Community. His short films have received high appreciation at many festivals, both local and international. Recently, his writing was included in the shortlist (top 15) of Best Film Criticism at the 2022 Indonesian Film Festival. From 2022 until now, he has also been a practitioner-lecturer for the Film Criticism and Film Theory courses at the Yogyakarta Indonesian Institute of the Arts in the Independent Practitioner Program.


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