Artist, The (2011)

This silent film about silent films will be sure to make enough noise to garner some trophies come awards season.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Michel Hazanavicius
2011 | USA/France | Comedy/Drama/Romance | 100 mins | 1.33:1 | English & French
PG (passed clean) for a disturbing image and a crude gesture

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman
Plot: An egomaniacal film star develops a relationship with a young dancer against the backdrop of Hollywood’s silent era.
Awards: Won Best Actor & Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Won 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score; Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction.
International Sales: Wild Bunch

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 23 Nov 2011
Spoilers: No

Will The Artist be overlooked by the Oscars?  If it does, it would be tragic.  Because this little gem of a film is quite simply breathtaking, and is deserving of a spot in any annual Top Ten lists, including mine, of which a place is already guaranteed. 

Yes, this is how great this film is.  Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist was brought to the limelight after being awarded Best Actor at Cannes, where it officially competed in the Palme d’Or category and premiered, I believe, to thundering applause.

Of course, in an early scene in The Artist, when a popular film starring George Valentin ends, you won’t hear the thundering applause; you can only see. The saying goes that seeing is believing, but by the time the final credits of The Artist roll, seeing is convincing. 

That feeling of being convinced that in this day and age of 3-D and sound effects wonder, a silent black-and-white film can still thrive and gather acclaim is remarkably satisfying, not only from a historical-cinematic standpoint, but also from a political-economic one. After all, stripped to its very core, great filmmaking is, and has always been, about telling a good story.

Set in the late 1920s, George (Jean Dujardin) is a highly-adored silent film actor who begins to fade away when the revolutionary introduction of sound in films strongly ruffled the feathery dynamics of Hollywood filmmaking in the early 1930s. George refuses to change because of his pride and suffers accordingly. 

“If only he could talk.”

On the other hand, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) becomes a rising star and screen beauty after starring in a series of popular ‘talkies’.  Peppy who meets George early on in the first act feels sympathy for her acquaintance and becomes worried when the latter starts to make headlines for the wrong reason.

Well, the story may be far from radical, but its conventionality suits the simplicity of a silent film. The original score by Ludovic Bource (surely an Oscar nomination for him?) brilliantly sets the mood, and more importantly, the pace of the film. The Artist moves quickly, always confident in finding the rhythmic flow of the narrative. 

It reminds me of Chomet’s The Illusionist (2010), an incredible animated film with almost no dialogue.  There are key similarities: A lead character who plays “an artist” struggling to find an audience for his craft, the exquisite use of music as the primary source of emotion creation, and the extraordinary focus on facial expressions as in the true spirit of silent cinema.

For those who are ignorant of film history, The Artist gives us an appreciable glimpse of the distant past.Those were the days…when Hollywood productions were glamorous affairs…when stars could play the film director like a puppet (nowadays we have things like Michael Bay firing Megan Fox)… when getting a ticket for a highly-anticipated film means queuing up for hours. 

The Artist brings to life the hypnotic power of silent cinema.  At the same time, director Hazanavicius injects fresh creativity by toying with the film’s sound design, and in one excellent extended sequence, he uses the mournful “Scene d’Amour” music by Bernard Hermann from Vertigo (1958) to stirring effect.

Grade: A



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