Running time: 100 minutes
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie, John Goodman, and James Cromwell
A growing trend in film recently has been the use of 3D. With some exceptions, I’ve been pretty resistant to this trend. Movies are fine the way they are, think of all the classics that didn’t use 3D. Would they be better in 3D? Of course not. Besides, most films made in 3D are average quality at best. So what’s the point? Now is The Artist a 3D film? No, but the debate over whether or not 3D should be used is not at all unlike what happened when the “talkies” emerged in the early 1930s. Some believed it was the way of the future, The Artist tells the story of a man who didn’t.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a successful silent film star at the height of his career. Through a chance encounter, he meets a girl named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring actress. Valentin later finds himself working with her on a movie set, where he gives her some advice to be a star. What Valentin doesn’t know is that soon her star will burn brighter than his, as the “talkies” emerge and the film stars of the silent era fade away.
The Artist gained a lot of attention through the majority of the last year. The fact that it was a black and white silent film, it’s success at the Cannes film festival, and most recently, an impressive ten nominations from the Academy. Now all this led to a part of me being a tad resistant to the film. I’d be lying id I said I didn’t think, “A silent film that’s a tribute to silent films? How pretentious!” at least once. And yet within minutes, the film won me over completely. This is a film that’s deserved all the praise it’s got so far, and then some. Being a silent film isn’t just some cheap gimmick, it is required for The Artist. Had this been a “talkie”, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.
A big part of the film’s success lies in the performances from it’s two leads. Both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo exhibit the charm, energy, and passion you’d think of when thinking of 1920’s and 30’s movie stars. From their excellent dance numbers to their intimate emotions, these two really nailed their parts. It’s even more impressive considering that these two had to pull all this off without words. But you feel it anyway. I was especially impressed with Dujardin. The movie really wants you to sympathize with George Valentin as we watch his fall from grace. This might have been difficult considering Valentin seems a bit egotistical and pompous, but we don’t care. Dujardin is so good you can’t help but like this him. The rest of the cast aren’t given nearly as much to do, but they’re all good too. I especially liked James Cromwell as Valentin’s chauffeur, sticking by him out of friendship, and John Goodman as a determined producer.
Another amazing thing about The Artist is how believable it is as a 30’s silent film. It’s shot, scored, and directed just like those old films. The main person to credit for this is director Michel Hazanavicius, who captures that old style of filmmaking phenomenally well. The cinematography is also very good, and there’s some really cool angles used. The music from Ludovic Bource is also very good and is almost a character of the film in itself. And for all the controversy regarding the use of Bernard Herrmann’s “Love Theme” from Vertigo, I must say, I thought it was used pretty well.
This is a film that can also be appreciated for it’s individual scenes. For example, all the scenes that show the actual making of the films are great, and a lot of fun. I also love a scene involving Bejo and a coat rack, and all the bits with the dog Uggie were really amusing. Another great moment is a simple one involving Dujardin and a store window. It’s simple, and a bit obvious, but I still found it a very touching moment. Still, two scenes stand out as my favourites. One is a scene early on, that actually makes use of sound. It’s a masterfully done scene and it’s actually pretty scary. Then there’s the ending. I won’t say what happens, but I will say, I loved it.
Now the story itself here is pretty simple, but I think it works in the film’s favour. For one, it helps justify the film being silent in the first place. The story is so straightforward, you don’t need dialogue to tell it. But really, the story isn’t as important as what’s going on beneath the story. The Artist is a very powerful love letter to an older era of film. You can feel everyone’s passion for the era, and it’s not unlike what Scorsese did with the equally excellent Hugo. It doesn’t argue for film preservation quite like Hugo does, but both films are very similar in theme.
On a more general level, The Artist really about change, and this is where I really started to love it. The film basically says change must always came, we can either adapt to it and go on with our lives, or fight it and be left behind. But regardless of what we do, change will come. I also like how the film argues that while we should adapt, we still need to value the ways of old. I really love this message and I think anyone who goes through a type of shift will be able to relate to the film. Again, it’s a similar message to Hugo, as well as another great 2011 film, Midnight in Paris (now I really wanna marathon all three of these films).
So it’s probably pretty clear I love this film, the question is would I recommend it? Absolutely. I’m sure the fact that it’s a silent film is gonna turn some people off, but I urge that people go out and give this a chance. If you’re really intimidated by the fact that it’s silent, consider this. I saw the film with a buddy who tends to avoid silent and black and white films, and even he admitted it was a pretty good movie.
Few 2011 films left me feeling as good as The Artist. From it’s brisk pace, to the excellent performances, to the outstanding direction, The Artist delivered on all fronts. It’s unfortunate I didn’t wait on my awards on the site, because this would have definitely ranked highly. Come Oscar night, it seems Best Picture is gonna come down to either this or The Descendants. And as much as I liked The Descendants, The Artist definitely has my vote.