Every once in a while a film comes along that ends up becoming the ‘talk of the town’ so to speak. This year, that film is this The Artist. I’ve been waiting to see this since I saw the trailer last May. A silent black and white film in this day and age is obviously a novelty, but fortunately, that format alone isn’t simply a gimmick, French director Michel Hazanavicius offers us something more.
The story centers on a 1920s Hollywood silent film era star George Valentin, he started on as being at the top of his game, being adored by his fans the world over and Valentin loves every minute of it. Jean Dujardin plays Valentin with a sly smile and a twinkle in his eye, the quintessential debonair movie star with the world on his feet… little did he know.
Valentin encounters an up-and-coming starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) in one of those ‘meet cute’ moment, and later Valentin ends up helping Miller catch a small break in one of his films. Sparks fly and it’s obvious they had a thing for each other, but circumstances drive them to go their separate ways. Before Valentin realizes — as he choose to ignore the obvious — a change is coming as talking pictures (talkies) is taking over. Pretty soon, Miller’s career in gaining ground whilst Valentin’s crumbling right from under him.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about the plot, in fact it’s quite predictable, but the inventive way it’s told is what makes this film so remarkable. Oh the joy of silent film, where the tiniest body movement and every little facial gesture like a raised eyebrow means everything. The right expressions can be as powerful as any dialogue and all the actors here did an outstanding job in conveying their intention and emotion without overdoing it.
The entire time I was watching this I was truly enthralled by everything happening on the screen. I was in awe of the gorgeous visuals which was unlike any other film I’ve seen in years, but on top of that, I also connected with the characters, with their joy, their despair. You’d think a film this stylish would be a victim of style over substance, but that’s not at all the case here, and for that reason alone this film is a triumph.
If this is playing in a cinema near you, I highly recommend you seeing this its big screen glory… the set pieces, the costumes, the cars, all the vintage ambiance will transport you to a bygone era that’s long departed but hopefully not forgotten. There’s also a few wonderful dance sequences by the two leads that were done in a long, uninterrupted take… it’d make even Gene Kelly stand up and cheer.
As for the performances, I thought this would be more of Dujardin’s vehicle, but I was pleasantly surprised that Bejo’s role is equally substantial. In fact, it’s nice to see that the female character isn’t the one that needed saving. I’d definitely be rooting for Dujardin and Bejo come Golden Globes and Oscar time, they are both electrifying! Dujardin has the panache and whimsy to carry off the charming movie star role, as well as the ability to evoke real pathos when things aren’t so rosy in Valentin’s world. Bejo is radiantly beautiful yet affable, you can’t help but like her character straight away. She really imbues so much heart into this film… her affection towards Valentin appears genuine and sincere.
I have to give props to the supporting cast as well. John Goodman is excellent as a Hollywood studio mogul, and James Cromwell is sympathetic as Valentin’s chauffeur. Penelope Ann Miller seems a rather odd choice as Valentin’s unhappy wife but I think she acquits herself well in the role.
Major kudos to Hazanavicius for creating a film that’s not only enchanting and delightful but something so refreshingly different from anything we’ve seen lately. This is the first 5 out of 5 rating I’ve given this year, and I really can’t find a single darn thing wrong with this film. One review I read said he didn’t want the film to end, and that when the lights came up, he didn’t feel like facing the world outside. I can certainly relate to that… The Artist is an exquisite blend of artistic visual style and engaging storytelling, a truly a magical time at the movies!
|5 out of 5 reels|
Have you seen this film? Please share your thoughts in the comments.