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.
Dujardin 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.
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.
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