A love-letter to the bygone silent era, The Artist is a charming film that reflects on cinema’s formative years while also relighting the fires of interest in a style of filmmaking that was once considered consigned to the history books forever. To see it back on the big screen at a time when two of the longest-running Hollywood studios, Universal and Paramount, are celebrating 100 years in business, is almost poetic. It’s already picked up numerous awards and looks set for Oscar glory to add to the romanticism, but the gushing praise for The Artist is well-deserved.
Set in a 1927 Hollywood on the cusp of the first talkie which would revolutionise cinema-going, The Artist introduces us to fictional silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is cleaning up at the box office. The man receives standing ovations at packed theatres and adores the plaudits to the point his fellow actors hardly get a look-in. After his most recent premiere he literally bumps into dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and is captured by a photographer in a joking clinch. The next day there is trouble for Valentin over breakfast as his wife is none too pleased the snap makes trade newspaper Variety’s front pages with the headline “Who’s that girl?” but Valentin brushes off the anger with the help of his canine companion and co-star. However, when Peppy makes it into the studio lot in seek of her chance to shine, she soon finds herself in front of Valentin again and it spells trouble for famed face of silent movies. Though not how you might first suspects – Valentin, so sure of the failure of talkies, sets out to continue to make silent films believing they will never catch on, while Peppy becomes not just the face of the emerging talkie era, but the voice as well.
Restores faith in the magic of cinema.
The inventiveness of The Artist lies in its execution which is exceptionally well-conceived. By making a silent movie about silent movies, writer/director Michel Hazanavicius makes use of visual storytelling with minimal cue cards and the odd dash of inventive sound editing which add dramatic effect at the key moments. Hazanavicius knows his film history and provides plenty of reference to the historians who will be delighted to see a golden era of moviemaking replicated in the modern age while soaking up the references to early cinema landmark. While the style is spot-on, it wouldn’t have been possible without such a perfect pairing as that of Dujardin and Bejo who are majestic on-screen and endlessly watchable as they converse through gesture. The leads are well supported by John Goodman (producer Al Zimmer), Penelope Ann Miller (Valentin’s wife Doris) and James Cromwell (his loyal butler) to make for a showcase in acting.
Though The Artist might sound like a love story or a comedy, Hazanavicius manages to squeeze in elements of every genre to offer a real insight into cinematic style and what can be achieved even when dialouge is boiled down to a minimum. The result is a delight that enchants and restores faith in the magic of cinema.