The Artist – Review

by Ken B.

There are essentially two types of neo silent films. The first kind expressly does not adhere to the fact there’s no audible dialogue – it simply just tells its story that way. The second kind is the tribute – this kind of movie is fully aware its silent, it’s a benevolent tribute to the era. The Artist falls somewhere in between the two, ideally where most post-1930 silent movie should be. It’s a near flawless masterpiece, charming and light while harboring a vast array of open emotion.

The movie starts in 1927, Los Angeles. George Valentin (JEAN DUJARDIN) is a popular silent movie star. A chance encounter with a woman, Peppy Miller (BERENICE BEJO) leads Peppy to become a rising star and rumors of the two quickly spread, landing in the hands of George’s rocky marriage.

By 1929, Kinograph Studios, the place George works, is making the transfer to talking pictures. George is reluctant to make the change, and decides to write, produce, direct, and star in his own silent movie, but issues in both is professional and personal lives become more and more noticable after the stock market crashes.

The Artist was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who writes great comical moments into the film, and on the directing side, goes to painstaking processes to make sure it has the true look and feel of a late-1920s feature (down to changing the frame rate). He must be a fan of film for a large portion of his life. This, along with Scorsese’s Hugo, are two of the best tributes to movies as a movie that I have ever seen. Another great compliment I must award is that the musical score, by Ludovic Bouvre, is simply wonderful, even if large chunks of it were heavily inspired by preexisting pieces.

Along with Hugo, this is one movie that uses its good heavily through its tribute to the early days of cinema. However, I can not in good conscience say that The Artist was more deserving, regardless of the fact it is a phenomenally good movie.

I’m worried that this movie won’t be accessible to some viewers (mostly some American viewers) because it possesses  (or does not possess) four things:

  1. It’s silent
  2. It’s in black-and-white
  3. It’s made by a French filmmaker
  4. No cars blow up

It’s reasonably baffling that some people won’t watch a movie explicitly for those reasons (there are a lot of Americans who don’t mind if a movie possess all or any of observations 1 – 4, they’re out there) but there must be compelling evidence that this movie isn’t a complete waste of time, which is apparent directly in its superb production quality.

The performances from our main actors are all solid, adding much to a well written screenplay. It’s hard to watch the movie and not leave in a bouncy mood, considering the near-perfect way it is all put together.

The Artist gains one of the highest recommendations I can give. Although I feel Hugo deserved the Best Picture statue more, this is AMPAS doing their work of liking tribute tribute movies, where they completely immerse themselves in the form they wish to honor, which this movie did and Hugo did not, despite, once again, my feeling that it was a slightly more deserving recipient.