The Artist

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bèrènice Bejo, James Cromwell and John Goodman
Released: Dec 30, 2011

 The Artist is not the first silent film to be released in the modern era. Brand Upon The Brain!, released in 2006 and Dr. Plonk, released in 2007, both belong to the silent movie category. The Artist, therefore, is not groundbreaking in the sense that it is simply silent in an era of contemporary talkies. It merely incorporates this element into a rather touching homage to a golden age of cinema.

The plot:
Hollywood, 1927. George Valentin (Dujardin) is silent movie star, at the very peak of his career. At the screening of one of his films, he chances upon Peppy Miller (Bejo), an unknown that wields very big dreams of becoming an actress. He lends her a helping hand which, coupled with the arrival of ‘The Talkies’, sends her rocketing into stardom. Unfortunately, this has a seesaw effect as Valentin suddenly becomes a has-been actor in the eyes of the public.

There are few who would argue that the advancement into the sound era was not beneficial for cinema. The medium would be ridiculously archaic if we were not given the luxury of hearing people’s voices, rather than having to read them from the screen. However, there was a certain charm in the creativity of films from the silent era, that some may argue has been lost in more modern films. (Look no further than the latest Transformers for undeniable proof of this.)

The Artist is a love letter, not just to the silent era, as its style would have you believe, but to the medium of cinema as a whole. For lovers of film, the silent era represents a time when just about anything felt possible. Before sound, before colour. Before, in short, the industry became aware it had been working under limitations. It is a golden age, one which makes the very early Talkies seem vulgar in comparison. However, these talkies are representative of evolution, an intrinsic characteristic of the ever-changing nature of cinema. Even today, new techniques are being experimented with in order to give us the best, or at least, a unique viewing experience.

This is the lesson which Valentin, astonishingly portrayed by Jean Dujardin, simply refuses to accept. He has had a series of successful jobs based on the simple fact that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In a wonderfully moving scene, we see Peppy being interviewed about her success, with Valentin eavesdropping from the table opposite. She casually reflects on how the public are tired of actors that need to pull faces to make themselves understood. As she says this, the camera zooms in on Valentin, no longer electrified with OTT reactions as in earlier scenes, but with beautifully subtle emotions playing across his face.

Onscreen or off, Valentin is an actor, provided he has an audience. Among friends, co-workers or even complete strangers, his gestures are wildly dramatic and his emotions worn on his sleeve. It is only in his quiet moments, the second half of the film in particular, that we see him as a human being. These moments show the extraordinary talent, not of Valentin, but of Dujardin who portrays him.

He is complimented well by the absolutely stunning Peppy, who comes across as impossibly endearing. Her performance is one of subtlety, though she too has her moments in the spotlight. She expels such charisma and charm throughout that her presence onscreen is impossible not to enjoy.

It is hard to believe that this is a film made in the current era, as it replicates the feel of classic cinema perfectly. It employs an impressive amount of techniques used in the silent era, many of which current techniques have evolved from. Simple but poetic symbolism abounds throughout. Just as Peppy’s career is taking off and Valentin’s is beginning to falter, they meet on a staircase in the studio. Significantly, Valentin stands below Peppy, wishing her well, before continuing his descent.

Overall:
It is a bold move, making a silent film for a contemporary audience. Admittedly, it won’t appeal to everyone. However, cinephiles will surely adore this piece of work. It plays with the silent film convention in ways that were never possible before.  (This is especially apparent in an excellent dream sequence that perfectly embodies the tone of the film). Several times we see the words ‘The End’ show up after a film, within the film. Significantly, it does not turn up in its traditional location. After all, this is a film about cinema, which does not end. It simply evolves, from silent to sound, from black and white to colour, and so on.

Rating: 10/10

With pleasure” – George Valentin

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • Some cinemas were forced to issue refunds to moviegoers that did not realize the film was a silent film, and walked out early…uncultured peasants.

This film is kind of like:

  • A turbulent sea of emotion for anyone that has a deep love of film

or

  • Highly pretentious art-house film for anyone that does not
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmmm, I don’t know about life-changing, but it is a beautiful tribute. A very well fitting homage for anyone that’s really familiar with the medium. Plus the dog was cool. He makes up at least nine tenths of this score

  2. This was a very well-made film and had its moments where it captures the whole spirit and essence of the silent film era but it’s not that life-changing experience that everybody says it is. Still, a good flick though and I do think it does still deserve the Best Picture Oscar just because I don’t think The Descendants would be a very good winner that will last for the ages. Good review.


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