Damien Chazelle (USA, 1985) debuted with the black-and-white
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009) and achieved commercial
success with Whiplash (2014).
The musical La La Land (2016) is visually impressive thanks to bright cartoonish colors and surrealistic settings. The film, which is ultimately an old-fashioned story of failures and successes in the art world, is, however, overlong, slowed down by music and ballet, neither too exciting. Whatever doesn't work is redeemed by the splendid ending.
A long line of cars is stuck on a highway. A young woman gets out of the car
and starts dancing, soon joined by other drivers and passengers.
When traffic starts moving, a young woman doesn't notice and a young man
in an old convertible gets upset. She works as a waitress. Suddenly she
remembers that she has an audition and runs out hitting a customer and causing
him to pour his drink on his shirt and her shirt.
The audition doesn't go well and she gets bad news on the phone, so she walks
home (a very nice apartment) in a bad mood.
Mia has female housemates who are going to a party. They insist that she joins
them. Unfortunately, she parks in an illegal spot and her car gets towed away,
so she has to walk a long way home in the middle of the night.
She hears someone playing the piano in a restaurant and walks in.
The player is Sebastian, the same young man who honked at her on the highway.
A flashback shows what happened to him after that encounter.
He found his friend Laura in his apartment. He is a poor afterhaving been ripped off. He spends his time practicing jazz classics on the piano.
In the evening he walks into the restaurant that hired him and the owner insists
that he plays a set of Christmas songs and no free improvisation.
Hours later Sebastian can't resist and starts improvising.
That's when Mia walks in.
Sebastian gets fired, and Mia doesn't have a chance to talk to him.
Some times later Mia is at a pool party and recognizes the keyboard player
of a cover band: it's the piano player, Sebastian.
Their first chat is rather hostile but they sing and dance together in front
of a night view of the city.
Sebastian visits Mia while she is working at the restaurant.
Mia tells Sebastian that she's dreaming of becoming an actress, and he tells her
that his dream is to open a jazz club.
They tour the nearby film studios.
She gets the audition she was hoping for but she is rejected after just a few seconds.
Mia dumps her boyfriend for Sebastian. Sebastian encourages
Mia to write a one-woman play.
Sebastian meets an old friend who offers him a permanent job playing in his band.
Sebastian is not happy to hear that his friend plays poppy jazz but he knows
that Mia is serious about their relationship and counts on his steady income.
The band gets hysterical arena-size audiences, but Mia senses that Sebastian
is not happy to play that pop muzak.
Sebastian breaks it to Mia that the band will be on tour for a couple of years
and asks her to follow him. Mia is busy rehearsing her play.
Their relationship is strained.
Mia's play opens and Sebastian cannot attend it.
Mia performs in front of a small cold audience that does not like it.
Sebastian shows up when Mia is leaving the club in tears.
She decides to move back with her parents.
A few days later, though, someone calls Sebastian looking for Mia: she wants
Mia to audition for a new film. Sebastian drives to her town and talks her into
doing it. The audition goes well.
Five years later, Mia is rich and famous. She lives in a mansion with her
husband and a little daughter.
Sebastian is the owner of a jazz club and is still single.
One night Mia and her husband get stuck in traffic and decide to just pick
a random restaurant. They end up in Sebastian's club.
Sebastian sees her and plays their theme song.
She walks towards him, they kiss and then engage in a wild dance.
We see a rapid sequence of scenes that imagine their parallel careers if they
had stayed together. Then a sient movie that summarizes their (imagined)
private life: marriage, pregnancy, baby, etc.
But it all happened in his mind. When Sebastian ends his melancholy tune,
Mia and her husband leave the club. For one second Mia and Sebastian stare
at each other... and smile.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Gabriele Di Siena)
Il musical La La Land (2016) è visivamente
notevole grazie ai brillanti colori da cartone animato ed alle ambientazioni
surreali. Il film, che è sostanzialmente una storia vecchio stile di fallimenti
e successi nel mondo dell'arte, è tuttavia dilungato, rallentato da musica e
balletti, niente di troppo eccitante. Tutto ciò che non funziona è compensato
dallo splendido finale.
Una lunga fila di macchine è bloccata su
un'autostrada. Una ragazza scende dall'auto e inizia a ballare, presto
raggiunta da altri guidatori e passeggeri. Quando il traffico inizia a
muoversi, una ragazza non se ne accorge e un ragazzo in una vecchia
decappottabile si arrabbia. Lei lavora come cameriera. All'improvviso si
ricorda di avere un'audizione e finisce per imbattersi in un cliente facendo
versare la bevanda sulla sua camicia e sulla propria. L'audizione non va bene e
riceve brutte notizie al telefono, quindi torna a casa (un appartamento molto
carino) di cattivo umore. Mia ha delle coinquiline che stanno andando ad una
festa. Insistono affinché si unisca a loro. Sfortunatamente, parcheggia in una
zona vietata e la sua auto viene rimorchiata, per cui deve camminare fino a
casa nel bel mezzo della notte. Sente qualcuno suonare il pianoforte in un
ristorante ed entra. Il musicista è Sebastian, lo stesso ragazzo che suonò il
clacson in autostrada. Un flashback mostra cosa gli è successo dopo
quell'incontro. Ha trovato la sua amica Laura nel suo appartamento. È in
povertà dopo essere stato licenziato. Trascorre il suo tempo esercitandosi con
classici jazz al pianoforte. La sera entra nel ristorante che lo aveva assunto
e il proprietario insiste affinché suoni soltanto di
canzoni natalizie e niente free jazz. Dopo poche ore Sebastian non riesce a
resistere e inizia a improvvisare. È allora che entra Mia. Sebastian viene
licenziato e Mia non ha la possibilità di parlargli. Qualche tempo dopo Mia è a
una festa in piscina e riconosce il tastierista di una cover band: è il
pianista, Sebastian. La loro prima chiacchierata è piuttosto “ostile”, ma
cantano e ballano insieme davanti a una vista notturna della città. Sebastian
fa visita a Mia mentre lavora al ristorante. Mia dice a Sebastian che sogna di
diventare un'attrice, e lui le dice che il suo sogno è quello di aprire un
locale jazz. Passano per degli studi cinematografici vicini. Lei riceve
l'audizione che sperava, ma dopo pochi secondi viene respinta. Mia scarica il
suo ragazzo per Sebastian. Sebastian incoraggia Mia a scrivere un monologo
teatrale. Sebastian incontra un vecchio amico che gli offre un lavoro
permanente suonando nella sua band. Sebastian non è felice di sapere che il suo
amico suona il pop-jazz, ma sa che Mia è seria riguardo alla loro relazione e
conta sul suo reddito fisso. La band suona davanti ad un pubblico isterico di
dimensioni da arena, ma Mia sente che Sebastian non è felice di suonare quella
musichetta pop. Sebastian dice a Mia che la band sarà in tournée per un paio
d'anni e le chiede di seguirlo. Mia è impegnata nelle prove per il suo
spettacolo. La loro relazione è tesa. Il monologo di Mia inizia e Sebastian non
può essere presente. Mia si esibisce di fronte a un pubblico molto ridotto che
rimane indifferente. Sebastian si presenta quando Mia sta lasciando il locale
in lacrime. Lei decide di tornare con i suoi genitori. Pochi giorni dopo, però,
qualcuno chiama Sebastian in cerca di Mia: vuole che faccia un'audizione per un
nuovo film. Sebastian va in città e la convince a farlo. Il provino va bene.
Cinque anni dopo, Mia è ricca e famosa. Vive in una villa con suo marito e una
figlia piccola. Sebastian è il proprietario di un locale jazz ed è ancora
single. Una notte Mia e suo marito rimangono bloccati nel traffico e decidono
di scegliere un ristorante a caso. Finiscono nel locale di Sebastian. Sebastian
la vede e suona il loro tema musicale. Lei cammina verso di lui, si baciano e
poi iniziano un ballo sfrenato. Vediamo una rapida sequenza di scene che immaginano
le loro carriere parallele nel caso in cui fossero rimasti insieme. Poi un film
muto riassume la loro (immaginata) vita privata: matrimonio, gravidanza,
bambino, ecc. Ma è successo tutto nella sua mente. Quando Sebastian termina la
sua melanconica melodia, Mia e suo marito lasciano il club. Per un secondo Mia
e Sebastian si guardando ... e sorridono.
First Man (2018)
Babylon (2022) is an extravagant tribute to early Hollywood and to the age of silent movies. It is full of references to real-world facts and people
but ultimately exaggerates both the decadence and the decline of that milieu.
It is also overlong. The humor is often gross. The endless orgiastic party of the beginning must rank as one of the most boring parties in the history of cinema. It could have been an interesting film noir, instead of a bloated comedy and melodrama.
The best thing is that the whole film is a postmodernist
take on the movie "Singing in the Rain".
The film is set in the 1920s in Hollywood.
A Mexican, Manuel, has hired a truck driver to take an elephant to a villa
up a hill. The weight of the elephant almost causes a catastrophe but Manuel,
the driver and the elephant assistant heroically save the vehicle (alas, the upset elephant dumps lots of shit on them).
The elephant has been hired for by an eccentric filmmaker for a wild party in his magnificent villa. The party is truly an orgy. We see pretty girl peeing on a fat man and countless men and women engaging publicly in sex.
Phallic symbols pop up everywhere.
Uninvited, a sexy young woman, Nellie, shows up in her car, destroying a statue in the parking lot. The security guard wouldn't let her in but Manuel helps her
A film star, Jack, arrives with his wife, who feels insulted that he keeps talking Italian to her and eventually storms out swearing to divorce him. Jack, not upset at all, dives into the party, enjoying the attention that the crowd devotes to him. His fun is only interrupted when he has to take care of his producer and best friend George, who is depressed because a girl dumped him after one week.
A Chinese singer, Fay, performs and her impersonation of an androgynous femme fatale a` la Marlene Dietrich silences the crowd.
The band includes black jazz musician Sidney.
Nellie asks Manuel where the drugs are and Manuel takes her to a room where she sniffs cocaine. Then she too joins the festivities and her wild dancing becomes
the main attraction. She gets noticed by the studio executive.
Manuel is asked to manage the situation when the pretty girl who was peeing on
the fat man is found dead.
In the morning Nellie leaves all happy in her car: she got an audition.
Manuel is clearly falling in love with that crazy girl, but instead has to drive
Jack home. Jack invites him into his villa and hires him as an assistant.
Nellie, instead, lives in a dilapidated apartment.
Nellie heads for the studio at the same time that Jack is driving Manuel to
the studios. Dozens of film are being made in a small patch of desert.
On her set, Nellie impresses the director with her ability to cry at will.
Manuel's film is being made on a much bigger set, involving hundreds of extras.
Manuel is placed in charge of dealing with a crowd of angry protesters while
the German director, who clearly likes realistic acting, organizes a vast battle scene in which many actors are
wounded for real and one is even killed by a spear. Jack risks his life in the
tent where he is preparing because weapons fly around him.
Sitting on top of a hill, an aging haughty movie critic, Elinor, dictates her
article to her typist.
The chaos is such that the camera itself gets destroyed and the German director is desperate that they have to stop filming just at the key moment. Manuel
is dispatched to town to find a new camera. He returns on an ambulance to
avoid traffic and arrives just in time before sunset.
Jack is drunk because he spent all the time drinking but it doesn't matter
as these are silent movies.
Nellie secretly watches her movie and is delighted that the audience loves it.
Elinor too writes good things about Nellie. She's on her way to become a star.
Manuel sees her picture on the cover of a magazine.
Meanwhile, the first sound picture is coming out, "The Jazz Singer".
After a meeting in Jack's house (while his new Hungarian wife Olga makes
a scene that ends with her shooting Jack in an arm), Jack asks Manuel to check the movie out.
Manuel runs into Nellie who is being mobbed by fans and she takes him to a
sanatorium to visit her mother, who gives no sign of recognizing her.
Nellie is always excited and ambitious but obviously comes from a state of extreme poverty.
Manuel then walks into a theater that is showing "The Jazz Singer" and reports to Jack that the audience loves it.
The first time she makes a talking picture,
Nellie is very nervous: now her voice will be heard.
The technology is also very primitive: a scene has to be repeated endless times before the sound is captured correctly by the sound engineer, and the price paid is the death of a member of the staff locked in a closet with no ventilation (probably the funniest scene in the film).
Jack and Nellie meet at another party. Jack now has a new fiance', a star of Broadway theaters.
Again Jack has to intervene when
Jack's producer a depressed George sticks his head into a toilet (and then can't get it out) because of another love disappointment.
Fay sings again and dances with Nellie in a sensual manner.
Nellie overhears Jack and others mock her voice. An angry Nellie encourages her
drunk father to pledge that he will fight a snake. Four cars drive to the desert
and stop when they see a big rattlesnake. Her father offers to catch it but
luckily is too drunk to stand up. Nellie then walks straight to the snake and
grabs it. The snake bites her in the neck and doesn't let go. She screams
and jumps with the animal hanging from her neck. The only one who helps her
is Fay, who calmly grabs a knife, cuts the snake's head and then sucks the
blood from Nellie's wound. The two women kiss passionately.
The studio decides to make a sound picture. During the shooting the cameras are focused on a choir of white women singing "Singing in the Rain" while ignoring the band, which is made of black musicians, but Sidney, the black musician, tells Manuel that the cameras are pointing in the wrong direction. Manuel then has the idea to make a movie about black musicians. Manuel's idea is a success and he becomes a studio executive.
Sound is not friendly to Nellie: her career declines quickly. The newspapers
also gossip about her lesbian relationship with Fay.
She is broke and jobless. Manuel tried to redeem her, even telling Fay to leave Nellie alone, but Nellie makes a scene
at a formal party, after she's been trained to behave like a lady, behaving instead like a wild girl. She leaves after throwing up on the carpet and on the host himself. Manuel is heartbroken.
Jack's career too is declining. His best friend George kills himself after yet another love disappointment. Jack yells at his wife who tries to lecture him on how to recite. Jack is certain that there is more to cinema than to theater, but the audience now demands better recitation in talking pictures. Jack witnesses an audience laughing at his movie. Some times later his old friend Elinor herself writes a disparaging article about him. When he confronts her, she bluntly tells him that his age has ended and there's nothing he can do about it.
Meanwhile, Sidney has become a star but one day Manuel has to ask him to paint his face black because he's not black enough and people may think that his band is a mixed-race band, which is not what people expect. Sidney does so, almost crying, but then quits.
Nellie disappears for a while, then she shows up at Manuel's place begging for help: she has lost all her money and owes a large sum to a gangster.
Manuel is furious that a Hollywood star could waste all her money so quickly.
However, a friend who is a drug dealer finds the money and they both drive
to the gangster's mansion to deliver it. The gangster insists that they
have a drink and while they sit inside the mansion the friend confesses to
Manuel that the money is fake. James insists on taking them to a secret
party place. It's a cave in a remote location where a sadomaso crowd engages
in all sort of tortures, a place populated by chained freaks and protected
by a crocodile.
Just when James is showing them the main attraction, a giant who eats rats,
James accidentally realizes that the money is fake. Manuel kills a thug and
releases the crocodile so that he and his friend can escape but the gangsters
are certain to find them and kill them.
Meanwhile, at another elegant party Fay tells Jack that she's leaving for Europe. Jack too is tired of the new Hollywood, the old magic is gone.
A little later Jack shoots himself.
Back to Manuel, he grabs Nellie and tells her that they need to escape to Mexico. Nellie looks high and stupid. She doesn't appreciate the danger they're in and seems indifferent to Manuel's hysterical actions. Manuel tells Nellie that he loves her and proposes, offering a new life together in Mexico. Nellie accepts
but then, when he leaves her alone, she walks (or better dances) away in the night.
A killer finds Manuel and his friend and kills Manuel's friend but spares Manuel's life.
Sidney is now performing in small clubs.
Elinor attends Jack's funeral.
Years go by. We see footage of the Hollywood studios expanding over the years.
A short article in the newspaper announces Nellie's death.
Two decades later, Manuel is married with a child. He is taking them to see
the famous studios where he used to work. His daughter is bored and his wife
takes her back to the hotel. Manuel chats with a security guard, explaining that
he used to work there, and we learn that he now has a camera shop in
New York. Manuel walks around and we see posters of Marylin Monroe.
He walks into a movie theater that is showing the movie "Singing in the Rain" in with Gene Kelly sings the old song (composed in 1929).
Manuel is shocked to find that the plot of the movie is basically the story of
his life: what happened when Hollywood moved from silent movies to talking pictures. And so scenes from this film become part of that film.
Then we see a rapid-fire montage of iconic scene from the history of cinema.
Manuel first cries, but then smiles.