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“The Artist” is a movie that is in love with movies. Turns out I’m in love with movies, too. So this film and I are a perfect fit.
The story concerns a silent film star at the height of his success who shakily confronts the industry’s shift to talkies, and a female co-star who handles the transition more smoothly. And the film itself is a silent movie! This opens up lots of potential for the filmmakers to have loads of fun with the genre, and they take advantage. As opposed to the days when producers and directors made silent films because that’s all you could make, now the idea of making a silent film comes with all the knowledge of film history, the expansion of a filmmakers tools and a 21st century sense of humor at the filmmakers disposal.
That being said, this tale of old Hollywood is pretty much a straightforward silent film. They don’t goof on the genre the way Mel Brooks did. They embrace it, and it, in turn, embraces you (wow, that was corny).
There hasn’t been a film this year (or perhaps going further back) that’s been this ENJOYABLE (a tough word to come by these days as films pander and over-produce in a desperate attempt to please). “The Artist” makes it look easy. I spent most of the film staring at the screen with a big, stupid smile on my face. I gotta believe even the hardest of persons will come away from “The Artist” enjoying it.
Jean Dujardin won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his role as the lead character, George Valentin, a brilliant cross between Gene Kelly and Clark Gable, equally adept at laying on the charm and seducing the girl, and dancing across the floor with her till midnight. Berenice Bejo plays the up-and-coming starlet who starts as an admirer of George’s and eventually becomes a marquee rival. Bejo has a natural radiance and easily carries the movie’s heart. In supporting roles, so as to not seem overly-foreign, are the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller. Goodman is great at appearing blustery without hearing a word he says. Cromwell’s sad face serves him well as George’s chauffeur, and this is Penelope Ann Miller’s best work (and role) in years. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the excellent acting of Uggie the Dog as George’s faithful companion. If animals had an Oscar category (should they?), he’d crush all comers.
Whether the characters are struggling or triumphing, at the film’s core is a pulsating love of the cinema. Movie premieres are sparkling and noir-ish shadows and 1920s furniture enliven the Hollywood bungalows of the stars. The score, sure to be Oscar-nominated, sounds equal parts playful storyteller and observer along for the ride as the plot unfolds. In fact, outside of the crispness of the photography, this film could be mistaken for a 1927 feature (even the picture is 4:3, as opposed to 16:9, reflecting the photography style of the time!).
I’ve often said that just because technology has advanced to new, amazing heights doesn’t mean it always needs to be used. Do we really need to use computers to create a million soldiers in a battle scene, just so it looks THAT MUCH BIGGER? No, and “The Artist” proves that the story can soar when you TAKE AWAY tech aspects. Story is king.
This film successfully re-creates the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the words from back then are the best to describe it – “Glorious!”, “Magnificent!”, “A Triumph!”. Post ‘em high on a theater marquee and get swept away by “The Artist”. This film is truly great.
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Release Date: November 23, 2011
Run Time: 100 Minutes
Company: La Petite Reine