The  Artist

by Michel Hazanavicius

Singing in the Rain is a lovely musical I’m sure we all remember and know? We know the story of how the life of an actor changed when films made the transition from “silent” to sound? Indeed, but has there ever been a film that portrays the fall of a man who did not make the transition along with the world of film?

Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist, to me the finest film of 2011, is the first silent film in almost a century and its story is based around the worshipped silent film star George Valentine (played masterfully by newcomer Jean Dujardin). He gets all the leading parts and all his pictures are large hits, life appears to head in the right direction. After one of his many great premieres he interacts with one of his biggest fans, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who herself gets into the film industry with his help. She can dance and Valentine enjoys this.

Soon the day comes. Valentine is asked to meet with studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and learn the truth – talkies are the way of the future. This he refuses to believe in, but begins to realize that his days are numbered when young Peppy Miller begins to steal his thunder with her amazing talking pictures. Valentine’s popularity fades away and Miller grows only taller. But she still has feelings for Valentine and starts to worry about the man, who might soon give up entirely.

James Cromwell plays Valentine’s loyal valet, Penelope Anne Miller portrays his wife and cameos are given to Missi Pyle and Malcolm McDowall. But the participants who truly steal the show are, of course, Dujardin and Bejo, who perform their characters so beautifully that you forget they’re acting. What you see is two hard working people in the 1920’s, acting eccentric on the screen, but express their emotions subtly when out-of-character. Playing both sides of these characters isn’t simple, and yet Dujardin and Bejo miraculously manage it  with no flaw.

The Artist has the music, feel and sound (lack thereof, rather) of a 1920’s silent flick, but it chooses the exact right moments to break its silence, only making the moments much more powerful. I’ve always pondered on how it must be to see this, if you are a very old person who hasn’t attended a real silent film since decades in the past. How will their experience be? Will they feel nostalgia on a level someone like me could never even imagine? Possibly. If they’re not too senile.

The Artist is a magnificent film. It has superb writing, a tremendous amount of nostalgia, wonderfully old school music and imagery, splendid direction, beautifully coreographed dance numbers and possibly the best performance you will ever see from a dog ever. Truly, experiencing a film like this – no CGI, no 3D, no obnoxious acting, no “modern annoyances”, if you will – is indescribably refreshing. If I my connection to the silent film era was more intimate, this film would have made me weep. I know it.

It has won many Oscars and has been praised by practically everyone. What more needs to be said? It’s The Artist. You already know how good it is.

A certainly wonderful duo.