Babeldom (4 stars)


A rich documentary meditating on the future of urban life from filmmaker Paul Bush

A science fiction film using buildings of today, or a documentary about tomorrow? Paul Bush’s Babeldom might be the first film to use the laws of thermodynamics as a denouement, as the film wonders quite literally what our world is coming to. With the film explaining that as we try to give order to chaos using human, mechanical and electronic means, so we are adding dispersed heat that leads to the rapid movement of molecules, and more chaos. Better to do nothing at all, perhaps, as the narrator’s friend decides to lapse into silence. A film full of provocative paradoxes, this is hardly an anti-eco friendly documentary, but for those who have often felt sympathy with the eco doc’s position, but wondered whether the message was somehow starving the brain of oxygen, here is a film addressing the subtleties of the mind as well as the problems of the world.

Using a mixture of footage from various urban centres as well as computer graphics, the film’s narrator reflects on her present condition and recalls her conversations with an intimate from the past, a lucid voice in making sense of what has happened. Whether telling us that the living are so numerous that they now outnumber the dead from all the previous centuries, or informing us how all our sexual fantasies can be met, the film illustrates the thesis with images of ant-like humans swarming the urban centre, and CGI strippers capable of meeting every fetishistic whim. It is not that we have to assume everything we’re told is true; more that we need to go with the provocative threnody as sci-fi dystopia.

Chris Marker (Sans soleil) obviously comes to mind, but Bush seems more like a vertical Patrick Keiller (London), interested in projecting into the urban future rather than, like Keiller, chiefly concerned with the urban past and using the present to archeologically investigate it. But it is also (like Marker and Keiller), a work of literature in the density of its voiceover and might bring to mind anyone from Borges ('The Library of Babel') to Alasdair Gray ('The End of the Axletree').

Limited release from Fri 8 Mar.

Babeldom The Trailer


  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • UK
  • 1h 20min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Paul Bush
  • Written by: Paul Bush
  • Cast: Youla Boudali, Mark Caven
  • UK release: 8 March 2013

Essayistic documentary film using a mixture of footage from urban centres as well as CGI to explore the idea that the amount of chaos in the universe is increasing. Full of provocative paradoxes.