Today: April 16, 2024
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The Artist

Never a word is spoken in this homage to silent era cinema that is more captivating and charming than any film you’ll see this year.

In the coming months, especially in the build up to award season, you’re going to be hearing a lot about The Artist.  Especially from industry insiders and critics who’ve already been raving about it since it’s Cannes triumph earlier this year.  But is it actually a film worthy of your attention?  The simple answer is yes.  Hell, yes.  Shout it from the rooftops YES!  Here is a film that manages to be both a love letter and a keynote speech to everything film stands for.  Rarely does a film speak so honestly and loudly about the magic of cinema.

George Valentin (Dujardin) is a dashing and successful silent film star.  He has audiences eating out of the palm of his hand.  Aided by his trusty Jack Russell terrier (Uggy, yes he gets a credit, he’s that brilliant), he is the toast of Hollywood.  However, the introduction of the ‘talkies’ sees Valentin’s popularity begin to wane.  He won’t conform; he refuses to join the sound revolution and informs his studio head boss (Goodman) “if this is the future you can keep it”.  A brief stint as a director sees Valentin lose his money and have to sell all his worldly possessions.  Meanwhile, a chance encounter with the young up-and-coming actress Peppy Miller (Bejo), might be the only solace that can save Valentin.

The plot is not dissimilar to that of Singing In The Rain in the way it addresses the introduction of ‘The Talkies’ in the late 1920s.  Indeed, the climax of The Artist seems to almost pay homage, or at the very least tip a hat or tap a shoe, to the Gene Kelly musical masterpiece.  But in a world where digital projection, motion-capture technology and, in particular, 3D are dominating cinemagoers’ experiences, The Artist reminds you of not only the traditional magic of film but also that cinema is an ever-evolving medium, one which, like a shark, can never stop moving but is as evocative now as it was in its infancy.

Director Michael Hazanavicius has clearly not skimped on the silent era research.  His film is lavishly shot in glorious black and white, immediately transporting you to days gone by.  The Artist manages to speak, not literally, to the mannerisms and power of a visual art form.  Yes, there is a hugely emotive score playing over the film but more than that we are absorbed by the innocent playfulness of the piece.  Witness for example as Peppy sneaks into Valentin’s dressing room and uses his hanging tuxedo to be wrapped up in her idol’s arms.  It is a scene with such simple and unadulterated heart it will have you melting at the thought of it for hours after the film has finished.

While there are naturally moments of silent melodrama they are always done with a wry wink to the silent films gone by.  Title cards allow for a sense of irony, over-exaggerated gestures draw you into the emotion and visual slapstick gags are all too evocative of Keaton and Chaplin in their heyday.  It is like being transported to a time that is all too familiar and yet updated in such away to make it clear that the artists of the time were pioneers of cinema. Without them cinema would be a very different creature.

Of course with the introduction of sound came a new breed of actor so it is to the cast’s credit that they shift so effortlessly into their silent guises.  John Goodman and James Cromwell are two actors who fit into any genre of film and here use their interesting mugs to hangdog brilliance.  Berenice Bejo typifies that Golden Era look, something Gloria Swanson would be proud of, her natural beauty radiating on the screen while her wide eyes convey a plethora of sentiments.  Jean Dujardin is not a newcomer to portraying stars gone-by having been hugely successful in the OSS 117 series as a cheesy Sean Connery-esque Bond character.  Clearly when he and Hazanavicius combine there is a sense of nostalgic magic as the two worked together on both OSS films.  The truth is Dujardin has a very classic look to him, but also the onscreen charisma and personality to fill the frame a thousand times over.   His cheeky winks intocamera and. indeed at any reflection of himself, makes you overcome the character’s obvious ego.  He is after all a star, and what a star.  On this basis Dujardin deserves to become just as revered as his character Valentin.

For many The Artist will be easily dismissed and avoided as ‘just that silent film’ but to label it as such is naïve.  If you have ever wished for a simple and uplifting story, to come out of a cinema thinking “they don’t make them like they used to” or simply to marvel at the silver screen, then The Artist will enthrall you in ways you didn’t think film was capable of.  Artistic in every sense of the word, whatever you do, do not allow this Artist to be unappreciated in his own time.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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