The Artist * * * * *
Director: Michel Hazanavicius.
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Ken Davitian, Joel Murray, Hal Landon Jr, Nina Siemazsko.
In our modern era of motion capture and CGI – controlling most of what we see on screen – it’s a bold decision for director Michel Hazanavicius to tackle the style of a silent film from the 1920’s. A bold move indeed, but it’s also a masterstroke. This is a true original.
In Hollywood, in 1927, silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the height of his career. He’s the toast of the town and loved by all. One day he, literally, bumps into Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). He gives her a head start in the film business but films are changing, with the arrival of the ‘talkies’. Peppy decides to go with the change while George thinks that talking cinema is just a passing fad. Soon his career (and life) is in decline while Peppy becomes the new starlet that everyone loves to love.
Hazanavicius’ attention to detail is flawless. He has the look, the music, the feel, and overall, the actors to pull it off. He also throws in some of his own artistic flourishes along the way, which include a marvellous dream sequence where George can actually hear the cacophony of sounds around him, yet can’t hear his own voice; or the often used billboards and posters that mirror the very actions onscreen.
The performances are superb, particularly Dujardin with his big shit-kicking toothy grin and endless supply of charisma. The man gets away with the entire film by acting with his teeth an his eyebrows but he also conveys a real depth to his character, without uttering a word – not to mention an obvious allusion to classic film actor Douglas Fairbanks.
I deliberated on how I should have rated this film, considering all the hype I’d heard and read beforehand. I didn’t have to deliberate too long though. For the originality – and sheer audacity alone, in not only conceiving the idea of attempting to entertain in a fashion that’s over 100 years old but also in the execution of it – it’s hard not to give this film top marks.
Worthy of the plaudits and superlatives that’s been thrown it’s way. This is one of those films that even though you go into it looking to criticise, you find that… you just can’t.
An absolute delight.