The Artist is one of those movies that seems to have been around for quite a while, making its way around the film festivals, attracting praise and acclaim. Finally, it has reached our screens (or, at least, some of them), giving us the chance to discover for ourselves if this unusual film really is as good as most critics say it is or if they’re just saying that because everyone else is saying it. A modern silent picture made in black and white – a gimmick that grows tired or a cinematic revelation? I am extremely relieved and delighted to report that from the moment the music started and the film began, right until the curtain closed – sadly only figuratively – I was captivated and enchanted.
While a gimmick will generally entertain for no longer than a comedy sketch, The Artist succeeds and more because it uses what is unusual to our modern senses – black and white moving images, silent talking lips, exaggerated gestures, emotive music, grand drama – to complement a wonderful story, bringing it sharply into focus and instilling it with the radiance and grandeur of a bygone age. The Artist is above all else a love story.
Beginning in Hollywood in 1927, The Artist introduces silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) to Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a young, vibrant, exciting dancer who is about to make her big break in the world of the talkies. It’s not too long before Valentin, along with his dog, finds himself obsolete. ‘No-one wants to see me speak’, he mouths. Yet as his star dips and he declines, Valentin’s guardian angel is never too far away. That is the beauty and charm of The Artist – Valentin and Peppy are such sympathetic and vibrant characters, full of life and humour, whatever the fates throw at them, that they are impossible not to love. Of course, the credit for this belongs to the charismatic and attractive actors who light up the silent, black and white screen with their smiles. Without the distraction of colour or words, the focus is on the faces.
The film may be silent but a principal theme is sound. Encapsulating that perfectly is a dream sequence that took my breath away and that of much of the audience I saw this film with. There were audible intakes of breath, shocked smiles and wonder. I don’t want to describe it any more. You must see it for yourself on the screen or on the DVD. But it did bring home to me the intimacy almost of this film screening. Without the ‘noise’, our senses were keen. All credit indeed to director Michel Hazanavicius for directing our attention and our sympathies with such skill.
The Artist is visually a stunner. It looks tremendous, especially evocative of a past age because we see it in the same way that movies of its time portrayed it. The leads are hugely charismatic and beautiful and the supporting actors (notably John Goodman and James Cromwell) are superb – expert. It was also a pleasure to spot the familiar faces of Beth Grant and Malcolm McDowell.
As a lover of cinema, it’s very difficult to find anything to dislike or fault about The Artist. It has the old wonder of silver Hollywood about it but it also feels new and clever with what looks like little effort. The film is French but it is borderless, with no audible language or language barrier.
I left the cinema with a smile on my lips and with my aversion to tapdancing greatly reduced, very ready to head back in and enjoy The Artist all over again.