Monday, December 12, 2011

Movie Review: The Artist

The Artist ****
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius.
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius.
Starring: Jean Dujardin (George Valentin), Bérénice Bejo (Peppy Miller), John Goodman (Al Zimmer), James Cromwell (Clifton), Penelope Ann Miller (Doris), Missi Pyle (Constance), Beth Grant (Peppy's Maid), Ed Lauter (The Butler), Ken Davitian (Pawnbroker), Malcolm McDowell (Extra). Uggie (The Dog).

The Artist is pure cinematic bliss. It takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, just as silent films were being replaced by talkies. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is one of the biggest silent stars in the world – making a series of seemingly goofy “adventure” films, where he mugs for the camera, gets involved in endless sword fights, wins the girl, and rides off into the sunset – always with his faithful pooch beside him. But like many silent film stars, he is about to discover that talkies will ruin him. It requires a different acting style when there’s sound, and Valentin cannot be heard when he tries to speak. He will be abandoned by the studio he made so much money for, and by his wife. The stock market crash wipes him out financially, and now he’s washed up and broke.

His story is contrasted by the story of Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). She is young and pretty, and meets Valentin when he is on top of the world as a silent star. She gets works as an extra, and gradually works her way up in the ranks. When the silent era ends, the studio wants new stars, and they fixate on Peppy, who turns into the biggest star in the world. Yet, she never forgets Valentin, who was so nice to her early on in her career and who gave her such wonderful advice.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist is an almost completely silent film. Made in the style of the silent films of the 1920s, complete with inter titles to give you the dialogue, The Artist recreates the lost era of silent filmmaking. For fans of the era, like myself, Hazanavicius’ film is a wonderful homage to the time period, full of movie references. It is pretty much a perfectly made film – with his wonderful cinematography and the amazing score which recreate the era just about perfectly.

And it must be said that French stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo throw themselves into their roles with gusto as well. As Valentin discovers, acting in talkies is different that acting in silent films, and yet both of these stars nail the different acting style perfectly. Dujardin looks like a silent movie star, and his mugging in the films comedic scenes is just about perfect, and yet he still manages to be dramatic enough as Valentin’s life spirals down the drain. And Bejo is the perfect ingénue, with a natural screen presence. Throw in a stable of Hollywood supporting players – particularly John Goodman as a cigar chomping Hollywood exec and James Cromwell, as Valentin’s ever loyal chauffer, and you have a wonderful cast.

Yes, The Artist is about as deep as thimble. There really is not much here beyond its surface level. And yet, I find I don’t really care about that. The surface is so utterly charming, so funny, so pitch perfectly crafted on a technical level, that I found resistance to be futile. The movie wins you over in its opening scenes, and never really lets you go right up until it’s finale. The movie is, simply put, just pure, unadulterated cinematic joy.

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