The Artist

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The Artist has been gaining so much critical acclaim from nearly every quarter over the last few months that it seemed almost inevitable that it would feature in many award shows and with a total of ten nominations at this year’s Academy Awards now is the best time to write up this film.

1927 Hollywoodland, matinee idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a major star and living the high life after another successful film. He has it all: a successful film career as a silent star, a mansion, loyal chauffer named Clifton (James Cromwell) a beautiful wife (Penelope Ann Miller), fawning fans and arrogance. But silent films are on the way out and it’s time to make way for the young, the new. The talkies! Yet he doesn’t see this and when his studio boss (John Goodman) offers him a lead role in a talking picture he turns it down which proves to be the start of his troubles. Meanwhile young actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who Valentin helped get into the picture business, is a fast-rising star much to his chagrin. Can he overcome his ego and can they help each other out?

The Artist is a cineaste’s dream. There are so many lovely touches from the acting  – this is before the Actors Studio so acting is externalised and exaggerated – to the technical details like the screen transitions – match cuts, iris wipes – and the intertitles. Yes, this is a silent film about silent films and it is accompanied by a mix stark silence with a score that harks back to the early days of cinema.

The film captures the 1920’s film world brilliantly – the sets are gorgeous whether it’s studio lot which is a hive of activity, or Valentin’s cold mansion. Thanks to all of these technical details there is a verisimilitude that few other films touch and this also extends to the acting.

My first encounter with French actor and comedian Jean Dujardin came in the spy-spoof comedy OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies which was directed by Hazanavicus and starred Bejo. I must admit that I found it dull but recognised the comedic skills of Dujardin. His secret agent may have been a blockhead but he was charming.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) Displays Some Star Power in The ArtistDujardin is like a loveable Douglas Fairbanks character all charm and bluff. When we see his Zorro like films with him leaping about sets it looks authentic. He never loses your sympathy. His character may follow a simple path, pride before a fall, but he isn’t a bad guy and by the end of the film you realise why he was so reluctant to try out talkies. His relationship with his wife is poignant yet amusing. Playing against him is the stunningly beautiful Berenice Bejo who is brilliantly spunky as Peppy Miller. She is so full of vim and vigour, and she can do a nice line in dancing.

Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) Steals Our Hearts in The Artist The moment when we recognise that they have fallen in love is magical mix of movie homage, comedic goofing and tenderness.

There is great support from the rest of the cast but my favourites were a great cameo from Malcolm McDowell and the little dog Uggie with his cute tricks referencing Hollywood’s early animal stars.

Uggie Provides a Star Turn in The ArtistSo yes… I have to conform with the general consensus, The Artist is very enjoyable, by the end my heart was leaping with pure joy with this brilliantly crafted love-letter to 1920’s film.

4/5

The Artist

Release Date: 30th December 2011

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Michel Hazanavicus

Writer: Michel Hazanavicus

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Uggie

5 thoughts on “The Artist

  1. It was interesting to hear your opinions on Hazanavicius’ previous films – I haven’t seen them personally but it does seem like he’s come pretty much out of nowhere with The Artist which has proven to be such a success. From your description and from the stuff I’ve read on IMDB I don’t think I’m going to bother checking out his previous films, doesn’t sound like something I’d be interested in. Nice review also!

  2. Thanks for the reply!

    There are two OSS films but the humour in the first left me cold. I saw it on BBC Four a couple of years ago and was looking forward to it but the only thing I really enjoyed was Dujardin’s performance which was of a hilarious chauvinistic blockhead with a poor sense of irony.

    That said… my sense of humour is strange so don’t let me put you off.

  3. 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 Genki.

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