Tag Archives: Michel Hazanavicius

The Artist

The Artist cleaned up the big award categories at the Oscars. For many it was a predictable Best Picture win because of its playful spirit and daring differentiation by bringing back an all but dead film genre. Although admittedly, The Artist was not my favourite of the Best Picture nominees (I preferred Hugo and Midnight in Paris) it was certainly entertaining and its homage to silent films was just splendid to behold.
As nearly everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is bound to know, The Artist is a black and white (mostly) silent film. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, an enormously successful silent film star who watches his empire fall to ruin with the rise of the Talkies. Complicating matters further, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a beautiful young woman who was a mere extra in one of his movies becomes a huge star in this new wave of film. We soon see George’s complete collapse, becoming little more than an alcoholic living in a bachelor suite with only his dog to keep him company. The audience watches as a culmination of terrible circumstances and George’s pride and arrogance topple him, before his eventual resurrection.
Although fictional, the story hits upon the tragic reality of careers lost to technological change. Watching this I can’t help but be reminded of silent film giants such as comic phenom Buster Keaton, whose career crumbled at the dawn of talking pictures. In the film, George is haunted by this turn of events, which leads to a disturbing Twilight Zone-esque nightmare where his perfect silent world begins to fracture, allowing sound to seep through the cracks.
Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo both shine in this film and are able to harness the art of silent performance. Both are incredibly charming and have excellent chemistry with each other. Dujardin stirs our emotions as the tragically proud George Valentin; it’s heartbreaking to see his steadfast belief in the excellence of his own work, especially when we know the way the tides of the film industry are turning. Bejo is also lovely, infusing Peppy with ambition and a compassionate heart. Her admiration for George’s work never wavers, and despite his anger and possible jealousy, she remains a fan, and acts as a guardian in his time of need.
Despite most audiences’ lack of experience with this type of film, the direction and performance is fantastic, and entertaining. This combined with the occasional intertitle and at times heavy handed names of Peppy Miller’s films (ie. at one point a ruined George stands underneath a marquee that reads “Lonely Star”), remove any road blocks that would prevent audiences from understanding what is going on.
The Artist is a beautiful and charming film. It takes a gamble by breathing new life into an old style, and risks alienating audiences who may feel the lack of sound and colour will bore them. Anyone who watches this film, however, will find these fears unfounded. Its entertaining story, great characters and homage to early cinema is sure to please just about anyone.

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