A silent black and white movie set in Hollywood during the 20's, or more specifically, 1927. Talking pictures are taking over as the new fad in Hollywood, and silent movie star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) cannot help but wonder if their arrival will cause him to fade into oblivion. However, while he is down in the slumps about his future predicament, he meets a young dancer, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), with big dreams. Romance sparks between them as they get to know each other, but is there really a future for the couple when Valentin and Miller seem set to head off in different directions?
Review By Elaine Ewe
What do you say about a movie that has received universal critical acclaim from critics, with reviewers at Spill.com to even tout it as, quote, better than sex, unquote? More appropriately, what CAN you say? First of all, let us take a look at "The Artist" itself. The film's title refers to George Valentin, who is played with much debonair and charm by French actor Jean Dujardin, whom hardly anyone knows prior to the film's Academy Awards wins, who is in peril of having too much pride in his career. The film itself takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, a period when silent cinema was falling out of fashion, which also becomes the stage for the relationship of Valentin, an older silent film star and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) a rising young actress. Valentin first meets Miller when he is posing for pictures outside the premiere of his latest hit film, "A Russian Affair", where she bumps into him literally when pushed by the throngs of fans gathered around. In a show of good humour, Valentin poses with Miller and shows her off for the cameras, following which Peppy finds herself on the front page of Variety with the headline "Who's That Girl?" All this happens within 10 minutes of the film's opening credits.
As is evident, the premise of the film is a simple one, but there is just so much pleasure to be derived from watching the two likeable leads fumble around with their lives and attraction to each other a la "Casablanca". It is also surprisingly easy to stomach and empathise with after a long day despite being 'an Oscar film', which most tend to view as pretentious pieces, full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing. The buzz on "The Artist" is well-earned and genuine and the stereotype of French as beings with artistic flairs for romance grounded. Dujardin is the main factor that compels viewers to stay until the film's triumphant end, cheering him on. His co-star and leading lady, Bejo, offsets his leading man persona wonderfully as the upbeat girl-next-door who becomes Hollywood's darling overnight but remains devoted to Valentin. Special recognition should be given to Uggie, the adorable Jack Rusell who plays Jack, Valentin's intelligent dog. It is not an ensemble cast by any means, but after this film, these people have definitely become the ones to watch out for.
The decision to present "The Artist" in black and white is certainly a stylistic wake-up call for Hollywood's stale romantic comedy genre, for the film is indeed one. Cliche dialogue, pop music and breathtaking scenery may be the idealised view of falling in love, but it is wearing numb. Here, there are only intertitles, classical music and there is a slightly sped-up look to the film reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's silent films. It elevates "The Artist" from being painfully obvious to breathlessly suggestive. There will be few more satisfactory sights this year than watching Dujardin's handsome mug smiling for the cameras, with the possible exception of watching Dujardin dancing like classics artists Gene Kelly and Cary Grant.
With an instrumental music score by Ludovic Bource and the Brussels Philharmonic, "The Artist" feels every bit like the silent Hollywood the many filmmakers director Michel Hazanavicius admires, such as Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 film "Vertigo" with none of the mind games and all the thrills. Even the score used for the climactic scene is a portion of Bernard Herrmann's score from "Vertigo". Music is an integral part of "The Artist" because of its image-driven nature as a silent film, and thankfully the compositions function like well-oiled cogs. Viewers will hardly notice that it is there when it is playing unless they have an ear for tunes, but inarguably, without it, the film would feel awkward. Try watching "The Artist" on mute when you get the original DVD or Blu-ray or God forbid, a pirated copy.
The verdict? Remember the good ole days of watching "Casablanca" and "Vertigo"? This is how these films were done, with style, substance and class, not swag. It remains to be seen and heard if Hazanavicius can do more films as elegant and touching, without the gimmick of silence or he is merely a one-hit wonder, but ultimately, "The Artist" is a film about an artist that can only be made by a true artist.
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