Artist, The (2011)






THE SCOOP
Director:  Michel Hazanavicius
Cast:  Jean DujardinBérénice BejoJohn Goodman
Plot:  Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.

Genre:  Comedy / Romance / Drama
Awards:  Won Best Actor, and Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Won 5 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score.  Nom. for 5 Oscars - Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction.
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  PG for a disturbing image and a crude gesture.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Will The Artist be overlooked by the Oscars?  If it does, it would be tragic.  Because this little gem of a film is quite simply breathtaking, and is deserving of a spot in any annual Top Ten lists, including mine, of which a place is already guaranteed. 

Yes, this is how great this film is.  Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist was brought to the limelight after being awarded Best Actor at Cannes, where it officially competed in the Palme d’Or category and premiered, I believe, to thundering applause.

Of course, in an early scene in The Artist, when a popular film starring George Valentin ends, you won’t hear the thundering applause; you can only see. The saying goes that seeing is believing, but by the time the final credits of The Artist roll, seeing is convincing. 

That feeling of being convinced that in this day and age of 3-D and sound effects wonder, a silent black-and-white film can still thrive and gather acclaim is remarkably satisfying, not only from a historical-cinematic standpoint, but also from a political-economic one. After all, stripped to its very core, great filmmaking is, and has always been, about telling a good story.

Set in the late 1920s, George (Jean Dujardin) is a highly-adored silent film actor who begins to fade away when the revolutionary introduction of sound in films strongly ruffled the feathery dynamics of Hollywood filmmaking in the early 1930s. George refuses to change because of his pride and suffers accordingly. 

On the other hand, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) becomes a rising star and screen beauty after starring in a series of popular “talkies”.  Peppy who meets George early on in the first act feels sympathy for her acquaintance and becomes worried when the latter starts to make headlines for the wrong reason.

Well, the story may be far from radical, but its conventionality suits the simplicity of a silent film. The original score by Ludovic Bource (surely an Oscar nomination for him?) brilliantly sets the mood, and more importantly, the pace of the film. The Artist moves quickly, always confident in finding the rhythmic flow of the narrative. 

It reminds me of Chomet’s The Illusionist (2010), an incredible animated film with almost no dialogue.  There are key similarities: A lead character who plays “an artist” struggling to find an audience for his craft, the exquisite use of music as the primary source of emotion creation, and the extraordinary focus on facial expressions as in the true spirit of silent cinema.

For those who are ignorant of film history, The Artist gives us an appreciable glimpse of the distant past.  Those were the days…when Hollywood productions were glamorous affairs…when stars could play the film director like a puppet (nowadays even Michael Bay can fire Megan Fox)…when getting a ticket for a highly-anticipated film means queuing up for hours. 

The Artist brings to life the hypnotic power of silent cinema.  At the same time, director Hazanavicius injects fresh creativity by toying with the film’s sound design, and in one excellent extended sequence, he uses the mournful “Scene d’Amour” music by Bernard Hermann from Vertigo (1958) to stirring effect.

Verdict: This silent film about silent films will be sure to make enough noise to hand it some trophies come awards season.

GRADE: A





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Comments

daniel said…
It is said that only the French could and would do such a film in an era. I've not seen this film yet. I dont know if The Artist, despite its overwhelming popularity, would have a decent release in cinemas of Singapore.
Eternality said…
It might have a limited release on 1 or 2 screens like Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS. Especially if it is nominated for a major Oscar in the next month. :)
daniel said…
Its a magnificent film, though i found certain faults with this movie. For example, i felt that some of the title cards were redundant; i think its pretty obvious that the film is about advent of sound and its impact on the lead character but we dont need to be constantly reminded of that. I think it wanted to make it easy for the modern audience to understand. (Despite this i actually heard someone in the theatre explaining this to another guy) Also, I felt that the ending was too abrupt. By the end of the film, i couldnt care much for the snobbish main character. And why was the director in the film satisfied with that final dance sequence?
Eternality said…
Ah, I see. I am okay with the title cards. I do agree somewhat with the abrupt ending. I felt there should be something more. But I think the final sequence is a love letter to the spirit and nostalgia of classical Hollywood filmmaking process.

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