Review: The Artist

Right at the end of the year we finally get treated to the anti-3D film. You can’t get much less modern than this film, being that it’s a silent black and white film, shot and presented in the virtually redundant 1.33:1 format, that celebrates and pays homage to the golden era of Hollywood, when all you needed to do to get into the business was stumble into a famous film star and flutter your lashes.

The film follows silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) starting from his lofty position as king of silent cinema and how he copes with the encroaching threat of ‘talkies’. On the way he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), the femme fatale who comes to personify the destruction of his career.

But, before the sad times there is great hilarity to be had, largely from the interplay between Valentin and his dog Jack. Together they play up for their adoring audience on and off-screen. It is clear that he loves and is loved by his fans in an equally great measure, which makes the chance meeting with Miller all the more bittersweet.

There is a great spark between them that they only just manage to control, but it becomes very clear that she is destined for a different kind of fame than Valentin is comfortable with, for reasons that become clear by the end of the film. She embraces the new craze for ‘talkies’ where  he has only known the art of silent film making and shuns the new technology, and the favour of the studio, to fight against the current. This sets his and Miller’s paths on opposing tangents where she is shot into the stratosphere and becomes the toast of Hollywoodland and Valentin fades into obscurity after self-funding a silent movie which flops. All this is show visually by a brilliant shot which is also a great metaphor:  On the way out of the studio they cross paths on a staircase and exchange pleasantries. This scene is both beautifully shot and heart-breaking.

Another scene which stood out for me was the nightmare scene where Valentin is trapped in a world in which everything makes a sound but him. The claustrophobic atmosphere invoked by the sound effects is easy to sympathise with as, until this point, all the audience has heard has been the musical accompaniment.

As well as brilliant turns by both Dujardin and Bejo the supporting cast is brilliant, all displaying the necessary over-acting associated with silent film without looking like they were hamming it up. The obvious actors to point out are John Goodman as the studio executive and director and James Cromwell who plays Valentin’s butler, Clifton. Cromwell, in particular, plays his part triumphantly providing both comedy and tragedy in equal measure.

As with most silent films the narrative becomes quite dark involving the selling off of all worldly possessions followed by a suicide attempt before this proud, sometimes cold, man comes to grip that he does need to move with the times whereupon he enters into dancing films and the reason for his reluctance becomes apparent.

The amount of attention ‘The Artist’ is getting is understandable as it is a solidly made, well acted film. It is refreshing in a year which brought us the horribleness that were ‘Your Highness’ and ‘Transformers 3‘ that there is an audience for something so hugely different and that it is being widely received by audiences. I truly hope that copycat filmmakers don’t try to cash in on this popularity by making a slew of silent films that don’t match up to ‘The Artist’, though I would hope that audiences would not be taken in by such films. Either way, this is a very strong contender for film of 2011.


2 Responses to “Review: The Artist”

  1. This was a very well-made film and had its moments where it captures the whole spirit and essence of the silent film era but it’s not that life-changing experience that everybody says it is. Still, a good flick though and I do think it does still deserve the Best Picture Oscar just because I don’t think The Descendants would be a very good winner that will last for the ages. Good review.

    • Thanks a lot, I agree that it probably doesn’t deserve all the Oscars it’ll probably win as it’s actually a fairly standard film, plotwise, it’s the look and soundtrack that make it stand out. But for me, it was such a refreshing change that it was easily my film of the year.

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