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The Artist

The Artist

By Ben Nicholson • July 29th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Warner Bros.

Original release: October 12th, 2011
Running time: 100 minutes

Country of origin: France

Writer and director: Michel Hazanavicius
Composer: Ludovic Bource

Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman

The Artist

Silent cinema is, in the 21st Century, generally considered something of a niche variety of film which is primarily the domain of cineastes and assorted film buffs. People poured in to see them in their heyday with a pianist playing accompanying music, but to members of a modern audience, actors’ performances can seem understandably melodramatic and reading inter-titles can become tedious.

Personally, it took a rather long time to warm to silent era movies but once I started I couldn’t stop; these films can be absolutely breathtaking – just as much as modern cinema. Buster Keaton’s The General, Fritz Lang’s sci-fi epic Metropolis, City Lights with Chaplin, Murnau’s Sunrise or Harold Lloyd’s hilarious rom-com Girl Shy all still stand up today and much of the slapstick surpass many modern comedies.

Now we have a movie which pays homage to this era whilst also poking fun and utilising the power of silent film. The year is 1927 and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a matinee idol. He’s one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and one of its greatest heartthrobs; cherished by the crowds when he takes the stage after his picture finishes and the red carpet he walks is lined on one side by reporters and on the other by adoring female fans. When one such fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is shunted onto the red carpet alongside him, she steals a cheeky kiss and is propelled onto the front pages. Encouraged by this, she embarks on a career in the movies and finds herself on set with George where they share a tender moment.

Two years later, as Peppy is slowly making her way up the billing, film is revolutionised by technology when sound recording starts and the studio, headed by John Goodman’s Al Zimmer, decide to drop George in favour of younger, fresher talent. George strikes out on his own to self-fund, direct and produce a silent epic but its commercial failure and the Wall Street Crash cues his swansong. The rest of the movie concerns itself with George struggling to come to terms with his lost success and the rise of the talkies.

The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius’ film really is a wonder. It is a perfectly pitched homage to the beginnings of cinema which actually utilises the genre that it also slyly pokes fun at extremely effectively. There are some nicely placed jokes at the expense of silent films to play to a modern surround sound audience – when the stars are behind the screen in silence waiting to hear applause, a nicely played nightmare sequence in which we hear sound effects and perfectly placed gag regarding inter-titles – but on the whole the humour and the melodrama are entirely genuine.

There are of course some nods and jokes that only a fan of silent films might understand, and I certainly didn’t pick them all up, but the film is also designed for a wider modern audience and is as much to celebrate a lost genre than appeal only to those who remember or relive it today. It is very funny throughout and would certainly appeal to fans of comedy films of any variety. The soundtrack, composed by Ludovic Bource is absolutely on the money throughout being as light and frothy or as ominous as it needs to be at just the right time.

The stars of the show are what really make it sparkle. Jean Dujardin is sublime as George Valentin, a mix of many great matinee idols whilst clearly having the time of his life being able The Artistto simultaneously send them up and pay reverence to them (an impressive achievement). His raised eyebrow and over-the-top suspicion in the scene he shoots with Peppy had the audience that I was a part of in stitches and yet he is at later points – when he watches the projections of old movies or in the heart-thumping finale – capable of great dramatic heft.

Playing opposite him is the frankly adorable Bérénice Bejo who is very funny in her own right – a scene in which she snuggles with George’s jacket is a highlight – and also a perfect object of George’s affections. Add to that John Goodman’s producer Al Zimmer and James Cromwell’s ever loyal driver, Clifton and you have a mightily impressive set of performances, none of which are to outdo that of Uggie the Jack Russell who has become a sensation since the film’s release. Whether he’s being shot with an imaginary gun, mimicking George’s movements or literally saving the day, the dog steals many of the scenes he is in – which is an awful lot.

I can see why some people might consider this film to be a little frothy, and I can’t really argue with that, but then achieving the pitch which they have aimed for is no mean feat, and it’s like the fella said: “Make ’em laugh”. Every single part of this film seemed to work for me, I was enchanted before the titles finished, laughed throughout and adored the wonderful attention to detail with the most enormous grin.

The Artist

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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