Film Review: The Artist
After the showering of award nominations confirmed “The Artist” as this years must see film, does Michel Hazanavicius’ silent movie live up to the sky high expectations, or is this acclaim a falsity, merely the work of esoteric critics and arty academy types building its profile?
In 1920′s Hollywood, charismatic silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is top of the world. Adored by the public for his swashbuckling adventure films, Valentin is the ideal cut for silent movies: handsome, dashing and charismatic. At his film premiere, Valentin crosses paths with a young dancer/actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and there is instantly a spark between the two. Fuelled by this encounter, Peppy aims for the big time, and in a sensationalist frenzy becomes the next big thing in Hollywood. However George’s luck isn’t so great and with a reluctance to modernise and embrace the talkies, it leads the dashing star of yesteryear on a downward spiral.
First and foremost — “The Artist” is a triumph, the nominations and subsequent wins have been completely just, and it has rightfully deserved the almost unanimous praise it has received. Hazanavicius has made a great film: funny, moving, concisely told and beautiful to look at, it’s presented with ease in an unfussy and straightforward manner. It is this very approach that makes “The Artist” work so well, the film feels in tune emotionally and in narrative pull with classic Hollywood and it has a traditional sensibility to its construction. Interestingly this technique is not in particular fashion in contemporary cinema, which acts in making the film feel incredibly fresh, yet resoundingly earthed. It’s a pulling together of old and new techniques and ideas that are well realised and smartly put together, never does it become bogged down by the period setting and cinematic devices, rather it toys with them creatively, with an almost childlike sense of fun.
“The Artist” is somewhat delicately put together in a sense that a few snooty/emotionally void people have sneered at it, claiming the story lacks heft, and that the film veers off into feeling slight and unsubstantial, which is quite frankly nonsense. But if the quality of the film’s construction doesn’t bat this absurd criticism off, the two fantastic lead performances most definitely do. Jean Dujardin is cast perfectly as George Valentin, his Gable/Kelly looks fitting the persona of the era’s heartthrobs whilst his natural timing and expression carve his character out in reality. Bernice Bejo plays it just as convincingly, providing a strong and controlled performance which curves from beaming smiles to passionate tears with ease. Perhaps most impressive is the chemistry between the two leads, which feels tangible, enticing and utterly believable and both actors have earned their academy nominations with flying colours.
“The Artist” isn’t just a frothy, incidental reference to the silent era of Hollywood. There is a light yet distinct control over the film, which understands and embraces the cinematic past whilst maintaining itself to never feel smugly self knowing. The film doesn’t embellish the era with tacked on ideas or shoehorned references and it is most definitely not a parody or a pastiche (again, her the misguided criticisms appear at work), rather it’s film which fully understands the cinematic surroundings and the devices available to it. But above all it’s wonderfully simple story, lovingly told in an intelligent and engaging way. You laugh, cry and smile with the characters from beginning to end: it is the years first unmissable motion picture.