I have my favorite movie of the year now, and I expect that The Artist will be at the top of a lot of other reviewers’ lists, too. I’ve been told I gush about it. And I do not gush often. Considering that it is in black & white and is a silent film, you might wonder why.
I will admit to being a lover of older movies, particularly those from the 30s. And so, obviously, is the writer/director of The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius. In the same way Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a love letter to Paris, The Artist is an adoring ode to classic Hollywood. It is brimming with visual references to the great movies and movie stars from the early days of cinema, and the gloriously shot black & white imagery harkens back to an era when movie sets were works of art. Being a silent film, the soundtrack is in itself a character and I cannot imagine a better choice of period music along with several bits of whimsy. There is even a little dog with a big personality that would make Asta green with envy.
But what makes this movie really shine is the performance of the artist himself, Jean Dujardin, playing the central character George Valentin. You cannot help but absolutely love this man. What a face! Valentin is a huge silent film star as the movie begins. But it is 1927 and the talkie has come to town, and he is trying desperately to remain on top, while refusing to bow to the new technology.
Enter Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a pretty young starlet on the rise, and you have the makings of a wonderful, sweet, sad, funny, surprising, and unbelievably affecting story. Yes, even without (or maybe because of the lack of) dialogue, you are captivated from beginning to end.
I remember in film school they taught us that the essence of filmmaking is telling a story in pictures. And boy, has Michel Hazanavicius done it here! It is really hard to describe, but you must go and see for yourself. Dujardin won the Best Actor prize at Cannes, and the film got a 20-minute standing ovation. I am not surprised in the least. I saw it at a festival and it is opening in limited release later this month. It is a French film, shot in Hollywood, so I have no idea if it will be eligible for The Oscar or has to make do winning the Best Foreign language category, but The Artist will undoubtedly be one of the films everyone is talking about. Genius!
Also starring John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, Penelope Ann Miller and a slew of other great modern Hollywood stars.