So I decided this weekend to see what all the fuss was about regarding The Artist. The words I heard were MAGICAL – INCANDESCENT – REMARKABLE. I always remain skeptical when I hear such praise vaunted on a picture. When I get to actually see the film, my concern is that it will not live up to the hype. However in this case, the praise is well deserved and well earned.
The Artist is set in Hollywood at the point where the silent and sound era converged. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a larger than life matinee idol of the silent era. A chance meeting with upstart Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) seems to be the point where both of their fortunes change. As Peppy makes a start in the film industry, George offers her advice that she will not forget.
With the dawn of the sound era, George Valentin popularity is on the decline; one final effort on his part to capture the glory days – he becomes the sole creative force behind his final outing, Tears of Love. The result is complete public rejection, financial ruin and the dissolution of his marriage (his wife is portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller). All he has left is a few artifacts of his past life and the companionship and loyalty of his chauffeur (James Cromwell) and precocious dog.
As George’s world comes tumbling down around him, Peppy Miller’s star is on the rise. She becomes a darling at the dawn of the sound age. But she never forgets the man who helped her at the very beginning of her career.
I do not want to give away too many of the plot details after this point, for fear that it will ruin the experience for you; that is a big clue that I think you should see it.
You will leave this film feeling many things – among them that this is a remarkable feat this is, especially in the days of the Hollywood blockbusting machine. It is great to see that there is an audience who clamor for an imaginative, well made, beautifully photographed and expertly performed throwback.
Granted as much as I am a fan of classic cinema, I never was hugely into silent films; I could probably count the number of films I have seen my two hands. But there is something, dare I say transcendent and magical, about the notion that so much can be conveyed with looks, expressions and physicality – no words necessary. To add to the experience, the orchestral accompaniment made me imagine I was sitting in the cinema of the 1920’s. There definitely is something to be said about the importance of a musical score to the film experience. And nowhere is this more evident in silent cinema.
This picture is a lovely ode to that bygone era.
The Artist is directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is a French production with English title cards.