Heartfelt, heart- warming and sparkling with charm. You won’t get the smile off your face all the way home.
It’s been a good year for silent movies. Following Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a love letter to the magic of early cinema, French director Michel Hazanavicius brings us the most lavish celebration of the silent era since, well, the silent era. Shot in black-and-white with a continuous orchestral score, full intertitles and no dialogue, The Artist might seem to be going out of its way to put off modern audiences, but this is a film that everybody can quietly fall in love with.
Hollywood, 1927. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest movie star around. A thinly veiled Valentino, the handsome hero tops every billboard in town and draws swooning crowds wherever he goes. When young fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) grabs some of his limelight by accidentally falling at his feet, she uses the headlines to jumpstart her own acting career.
A few years later the advent of sound hits Tinseltown – and Valentin – like a hammer blow. Unwilling to adapt, Valentin’s star falls just as Miller’s starts to rise and a lonely Hollywood icon is abandoned by his beloved fans.
Hazanavicius clearly knows his stuff. Sharp, slick and tinged with modern irony, The Artist still looks like it could have been made 80 years ago. And if the plot sounds similar to 1954’s A Star is Born, you’ve never seen the story told like this before. Beautifully composed high-contrast photography, along with the use of irises, jump-cuts, square framing and other sorely missed vestiges of cinema’s golden age, make you want to go home and watch Murnau movies all night.
Ludovic Bource’s full-bodied and sweepingly romantic score is oddly cut together with Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo soundtrack – infusing the film with an even deeper love of cinema history.
Gallic comedian and long time Hazanavicius collaborator Jean Dujardin delivers the performance of the year. Fully mastering a lost art form, his depth of expression, emotional realism and immaculate comic timing are a credit to the screen greats of yesteryear – falling somewhere between Douglas Fairbanks’ raised eyebrow and Buster Keaton’s tragic indignation. Argentinean actress Bérénice Bejo also lights up the screen, and there’s a host of perfectly cast American support from the likes of John Goodman and James Cromwell.
Celebrating everything there is to love about cinema and telling the story of its birth in the only way that seems possible after seeing it, movie buffs were always going to love The Artist. Getting everyone else through the door is going to be a harder sell. Watching a silent film told with such deafening passion, Hazanavicius’ actions really do speak louder than words.
Shamelessly romantic, hilariously funny and beautifully shot, sceptics willing to give it a try will be rewarded with one of the richest, warmest and most joyous films of the year.
It’s taken much too long for cinema to go back to its silent roots.
Heartfelt, heart- warming and sparkling with charm, it’s the most genuinely enjoyable film of 2011.
A bona fide classic. You won’t get the smile off your face all the way home.