Sunday 8 January 2012


Arriving into cinemas amidst an incredible amount of buzz, The Artist is unlike anything else you've seen on the silver screen this year, or in fact, the last 80 years. Read my review and watch the trailer, next...

Set in 1927 during the golden era of silent cinema, The Artist tells the story of silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). After a chance encounter with up and coming starlet Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) that launches her career, their two lives head off into different paths just as the industry is making the transition into 'talkies'. Whereas Valentin considers talkies to be a fad and sinks all of his efforts into his silent epic Tears of Love, Miller becomes the new face and voice of Kinograph Studios.

"I won't talk! I won't say a word!" So states the first title card of The Artist, or more accurately, the film within a film that serves as the opening for The Artist. Featuring George Valentin in unsufferable pain as a secret agent being tortured for information, it perfectly sets the tone for what's to come; a nostalgic look back at the silent era of cinema but with a knowing wink towards the audiences of today. Not an exercise in metatextuality, but a film that knows it's a film and plays with our expectations accordingly.

The acting is exaggerated in the style of the era, rather than the naturalistic efforts of today. That shouldn't be seen as anything that might detract from the performances, as they're all in keeping with the tone of the film. Jean Dujardin's George Valentin, with his pencil thin moustache and suave demeanour, may seem like a caricature of silent movie stars at first (he shares some characteristics with Douglas Fairbanks), but as his career starts to crumble with the advent of talkies, we see a vulnerable and defiantly proud side to George. There's no doubt that Dujardin is a talented actor who happens to be able to say as much with his megawatt smile as Quentin Tarantino is with a script.

The problem the film might face is, can a black and white silent French production find an appreciative crowd among modern audiences? Hopefully the answer will be yes, as The Artist is truly unlike anything else in cinemas this year, but I'd be unsurprised if it failed to attract an audience outside of those who would consider themselves cinephiles. Like other films about films (it shares some common ground with Boogie Nights, oddly), there's a chance that talk of 'the industry' might bewilder most audiences, but hopefully people will allow themselves to be swept up by the sheer joy of it all. You don't need to have ever seen a silent film before, just be willing to try something new... or rather, old.

There's moments of cinematic pleasure that, if they fail to make you smile, should make you ask some serious questions about yourself. Valentin walks the stage hogging the limelight and applause away from his co-star; George fluffs his takes so he can keep dancing with Peppy; Uggy the Dog plays dead at the command of a hand gun; a feather lands like a bomb; George and Peppy show just how in tune they are with a show stopping dance number. These moments are as close to pure cinema as you're going to get.

As for the music, the score by Ludovic Bource (with a little help from Bernard Herrmann) should quick step its way to victory at all the major award ceremonies this year. The same can be said of director Michel Hazanavicius, whose crafted the best ode to the love of cinema since 1988's Cinema Paradiso. However, the real gem of the film is Jean Dujardin. A star in his native France, largely thanks to the OSS 117 spy spoofs he's made with Michel Hazanavicius, he's going to be huge after this. With the perfect look for the role, it's impossible to think of the film without seeing that grin, almost deserving of its own star billing.

An introduction to the majesty of old Hollywood that has shaped entertainment for the last 100 years, The Artist is a unique and brilliant experience that surpasses expectations. As for the film's chances at the Oscars? I can hear the applause already.


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