Issac Babel that I suspect will appeal much more to confirmed Babel-ophiles than to folk like TrustMovies (who has heard of Babel down the decades but has never gotten around to actually reading any of his work). Consequently, watching this somewhat disorganized movie (that does eventually come together better than you might expect) proves a bit of an endurance test. Granted, Babel's personality and character may have been elusive to his readers, but the work itself -- from what we hear of it here (read well enough by actor Liev Schreiber) -- seems even more elusive, given that we get such minute snatches accompanied by a rather obvious and overdone visuals.
First, we get a (very) brief history of the man and his life (mostly of his early disappearance and death, which was not even told to his closest relatives. Ah, those Russians: They sure know how to do "disappeared."). Then we're given smidgens of Babel's writing, along with increasing talking-head interviews, and eventually we come to realize that this documentary is not really about Babel himself, but instead concerns the journey his grandson, Andrei (shown below), is making to "discover" his grandfather.
Marina Vlady (above, whose father was Russian-born) and the great Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, below, who as might be expected, has some succulent things to tell us. (One of this writer's poems, Lies, was given to me in calligraphy by a good friend when my daughter was born. It has hung on my wall for decades now. It is brilliant and on-the-nose, though many in my family hate it. You can read it in translation in the link above -- or here.)
Cinema Village and at the RED Cinema Stadium 15 in Greensboro, North Carolina. The film opens December 2 in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Town Center 5, and then in Williamsburg Virginia beginning Thursday, December 8, at the Kimball Theatre. To find an update on currently scheduled screenings, click here.