Film review: The ArtistBy Kim Francis
January 04, 2012
Subtitled movies aren’t everyone’s cup of wet brown stuff, and if they’re black and white and silent too – and not even a well-loved classic – they’re even less likely to hit the spot.
But take that attitude with The Artist and you’ll miss out on a visually stunning cinematic delight.
Even though this is the stuff of cineastes’ dreams, the rest of us should put aside any prejudices and take ourselves down to the local picture house to revel in a silver screen gem that deserves to clean up come awards season.
Telling the story of fictional silent movie star George Valentin’s (Jean Dujardin) fall from the limelight just as the star of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) – the young actress he meets and falls for – is on the rise, it’s also a snapshot of the moment in film history when silent movies were phased out and Hollywood’s Golden Era of talkies was ushered in.
A comedy with Chaplin-esque slapstick elements as well as a tinge of tragedy and hefty dose of romance, it’s also a nostalgic look back at cinema past; a multi-layered treat that is as entertaining as it is clever and as informative as it is beautifully-shot.
Director Michel Hazanavicius blends techniques developed and rooted in cinema’s early days that are also the cornerstone of modern movie-making with contemporary techniques (look out for the dream sequence in which Valentin imagines himself silent in a world of sound), while also drawing from genres old and new.
Elements of German Expressionism, Surrealism and Film Noir are just some of the genres to which homage is paid in the French director’s attempt to craft a pitch-perfect love letter to cinema.
The charm and talent of the two leads – unknown outside their own countries – are what engages the viewer (alongside Valentin’s Jack Russell sidekick) but with so many highlights, it’s almost impossible to single anything out.
A celebration of Hollywood, The Artist makes you hyper-aware of the amount of inferior production-line fare Tinseltown churns our today.
At the same time, though, it reminds us not only of the power of the medium to delight, entertain and educate but also that Hollywood hasn’t entirely forgotten the artistry involved in filmmaking.