Movie Review: The Artist
By Ryan Mazie
November 24, 2011
It may be a month early, but Hollywood is receiving a Christmas gift via France (or is it more of a Valentine’s Day love letter?) with the silent, black and white dazzler, The Artist.
In a time when pop stars, eye-popping CGI, and screen-popping 3D are used to sell movie tickets, director Michel Hazanavicius (behind the popular French spy comedy series OSS 117) turns the hands of the clock back nearly 90 years to a time that was simpler but just as enthralling. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio (so instead of black bars going on top of the screen, the bars will be on the side), The Artist is a classic Hollywood tale, shot on location.
Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin, a Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly inspired movie star with piercing eyes, a dazzling smile, and a distinguishable thin mustache. With a list of hits, Valentin’s star gets extinguished overnight with the arrival of talking pictures. While watching his downfall, we see the converse career trajectory of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a movie extra who receives a kiss on the cheek by Valentin, skyrocketing her into trade magazines and acting gigs.
When walking out of the screening, I cannot remember a time I have felt so happy leaving a theater. This film stayed with me. The Artist, while being marketed as a prestige film, is a comedy for all ages, assured to provide an ear-to-ear grin. Rated PG-13 (the film could have easily been passed for PG), The Artist is oddly not a tribute to silent films of a bygone time period. While greatly reverent of the type, The Artist is an addition to the genre meant to invoke positive memories of those from the time of “movie palaces” and an enlightening experience for those, like myself, who have never seen a silent film in a theater before (or even a black and white one, for that matter).
Scripted also by Hazanavicius, the downfall of making a silent film is that the plot must be kept fairly simplistic to allow the audience to follow. However, the counterbalance of seeing a star exploding while another one is imploding makes for fun fare. The Hollywood setting also allows some brief film interludes, providing entertaining filler that benefits the film.
Dujardin and Bejo are award-worthy with their full-body performances that are a testament to their acting abilities. The Artist is a reminder of how hard acting truly is and how only great actors can clearly communicate a message with a subtle facial expression, a purse of the lips, or a glance of the eyes. Exaggerated just enough, the duo not only look the parts but own them. Dujardin begins the film with a face made for the movies, his ego and drawn-out features hiding his emotions. With his downfall, slowly but surely Dujardin’s face opens up, showing his insecurities and personal faults.
Bejo, with an award-winning smile and puddles for eyes, looks young and fresh while paradoxically dressed and made up as a classic movie star, drawn-on mole and all (the makeup department truly make the actors features pop in black-and-white and costume designer Mark Bridges goes beyond the stereotypical, textbook means to make the era come alive).
With no dialogue, a silent film’s lifeline is the music. Composed by Ludovic Bource, The Artist’s soundtrack is whimsical and perfectly conveys the mood of each scene. Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman also deserves kudos for his ability to sculpt beauty out of shadows and shades of grey.
The biggest achievement in The Artist is Hazanavicius’ ability to elevate the film from being a gimmick. While it could easily have delved into Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie territory, The Artist’s ability to be self-reflexive is its biggest advantage. The story is simply charming and the characters are complex enough to be cared about.
At 100 minutes, The Artist never drags, but it still could have benefited from being slightly trimmed here and there.
It will be interesting to see how audiences respond to The Artist if it is given the proper marketing push. A perfect concoction of smartness and silliness with a mix of nostalgia and awards glamour, The Artist is a four-quadrant film in a genre long thought to be unappealing to audiences. But after a long summer full of big-bang action, a little bit of silence might just be what is needed.
8 out of 10