The Artist (2011)
(PG) Running time: 100 mins
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Writers: Michael Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardain, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
Reviewed by: David Gillespie, official HCF artist
The Artist reminded me of what I used to love about the early days of Channel 4. In 1982, excitement grew as a bold and daring new television station opened in the United Kingdom. It promised more artistic freedom and challenging programmes. What we got was quiz show, Countdown and a lot of b&w silent movies. Having been ignorant of Hollywood’s releases, pre 1930’s, I found myself growing a great affection for these movies. Although aided by the occasional board of text, actors and actresses used the skills of their trade to communicate physically with their audience. Gone were language barriers. You knew exactly what was going on by the characters’ actions, expressions and background music alone. The Artist focuses on the death of the silent movie and the birth of the ‘talkie’.
In Hollywood 1927, we are introduced to George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a well established and respected leading man and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a confident and promising young actress/ dancer. When they first make eye contact and sparks fly, George is at the top of the ladder and Peppy at the bottom. Yet a cloud floats in the horizon for Valentin. He is reluctant to embrace the introduction of talking pictures and ignores the plees from studio boss, Al Zimmer (John Goodman) to get involved. The king of silent movies realises that time waits for no man with a line of younger and hungry aspiring actors waiting to take his place. After an arguement with Zimmer, George decides to throw all his remaining funds into his own scripted, produced and directed silent movie. Ironically it is Peppy’s new feature that he competes and loses out to at the box office. With debts rising and no new enquiries on the horizon it appears that Hollywood can be a lonely place for a washed out film star. George is forced out of his mansion and auctions off all his assets to make a crust. Although at the height of her career, Peppy keeps checks on the man that owns her heart.
The Artist is an energetic, clever and visually stunning film that is amplified by the terrific performances of the carefully selected cast. It has been a long time since I left the cinema hall with that warm and comforting feeling in my heart. There are so many cinematic gold nuggets that it is difficult to pick out just one or two moments for praise. There is a magical scene where George mimics the dance steps of a pair of legs that are obscured by a piece of cinema set. When he discovers the identity of the shapely limbs his reaction is priceless. Who could forget a touching sequence where Peppy steals a hug from one of George’s suits, slipping her arm inside the sleeve as if his? George is aware of Peppy’s feelings but he still stays true to his cold wife (Penelope Ann Miller). There is even an eerie and disturbing dream sequence where George experiences over exaggerated sound effects all around him yet when he screams out loud no sound leaves his mouth. He watches as a feather drops from the sky and lands on the sidewalk with an ear shattering crash.
Jean Dujardain is charming and enchanting as Valentin. With his wonderful smile, expressions and ingenius body language, he negates the requirement of dialogue. This is reflected in the performances of his co-stars Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell and John Goodman. A special mention must also be made for his loyal dog. I dare anyone to say that they are not won over by this animal by the closing credits. He gets the best gags and looks genuinely in peril during a sequence when his owner contemplates suicide.