Film Information: Released December 30, 2011; Certificate PG
Cast: Jean Dujardin; Berenice Bejo; James Cromwell; John Goodman; Malcolm McDowell; Penelope Ann Miller
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Screenwriter: Michel Hazanavicius
Running Time: 100 Minutes
George Valetin (Dujardin) is a silent film star struggling to come to terms with the emergence of “talkies”. Valetin is an actor at the top of his game, but when he accidentally bumps into Peppy Miller (Bejo) everything changes. The emerging talkies make him a wash-out, but meanwhile audiences utterly adore Peppy Milller’s voice – though we never get to hear her speak.
I’m sure many of you have heard of The Artist, if not from seeing it then from the sheer number of nominations and awards it has won. But is it really on par with the positive reception it has received? In my opinion, yes.
The Artist is a witty, light-hearted and well-written film that evokes old fashioned pictures such as Singin’ in the Rain, at least to start with – unlike most musicals it has the ability to change tone, from the hyper-realistically happy to the dramatically sad. One phrase to express this film is nostalgia in its best form. Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Lost in Rio) gives various acknowledgements to directors through scores, including Bernard Hermann’s Scene d’Amour from Vertigo, which reflect the characters’ feelings rather than just showing Hazanvicius’ love for film. This is one of the reasons I admire this film: it acknowledges us “cinephiles,” or lovers of films, and, in contrast to other foreign language films that are somewhat lost in translation, people from all cultures can fall in love with this.
Though there is an obvious lack of speech in this film, Dujardin and Bejo make fantastic début worldwide performances alongside Valentin’s Jack Russell terrier (played by Uggie), and all three regularly wow the audience with their comic scenes. This is perhaps more down to their reliability than their accuracy to the period. What is truly fantastic about this film, however, is that it can make you laugh and cry without the use of words – it is the ultimate tribute to cinema. It takes an intelligent film-maker to rely on the purest form of cinematic mise en scene.
Valentin and Peppy’s charm is ever-increased by the amplification of silence; you just fall in love with their camera chemistry. Ludovic Bource does a fantastic job with the perky and jumpy score, especially in a scene where he suddenly brings sound to the fore in complete contrast to the silence the film has just gotten us used to hearing.
In conclusion, The Artist is a superb film with fantastic acting and a fantastic plot. I’m not at all surprised it won best picture at the Oscars, and in fact I’m glad: for the first time in many years a happy film with actual artistic clarity won the Oscar, rather than a socio-historic period drama or something about social deprivation. The Artist has been universally understood thanks to a fantastic script and the use of silence as a form of communication, and it comes highly recommended.