This celebration of the silent era of cinema from director Michel Hazanavicius won away numerous Oscars and awards. And quite right too…
We live in a world where – in mainstream cinema at least – people don’t seem to be happy unless a film’s budget amounts to anything less than the GDP of a small African country and that said film has at least 5 explosions and one shot of a woman in a bikini. So it’s something of a delight to see The Artist get such a huge profile. Much talked about after its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Festival, and picking up numerous Oscars, including Best Film, and awards across the way – the film is a homage to the silent era of cinema that manages to be both technically brilliant and wonderfully heartfelt.
The early days of moving pictures. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a suave silent movie star who enthrals cinema audiences thanks to his devastating good looks and wildly entertaining films. He lives the high life of stardom, drinking the finest champagne whilst flirting with all the pretty girls. One of these said girls is aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who catches his eye after a chance meeting on set. But their destinies are set to be changed forever thanks to the introduction of the talkies. Stars such as Valentin fall out of the public eye replaced by new celebrities such as Miller. As her fame grows, Valentin finds himself increasingly forgotten. But Miller has never forgotten her initial encounters with the former heartthrob and soon their lives will interconnect once again.
Much like Scorsese’s recent effort Hugo, this is a paean to a golden age of filmmaking that not only celebrates the genius of cinema but also shows that – even today – you can tell an affecting story in the simplest of ways. Whilst the story is an exercise in nostalgia and the familiar, taking cues from numerous classic films including Sunset Boulevard and Singin’ In The Rain, The Artist never feels dull or derivative and instead manages to be both a sincere celebration and affectionate parody. Indeed, director Michel Hazanavicius mananges to make the fact that there is (almost) no sound or dialogue never seem forced or gimmicky whilst aided by some gorgeous black and white photography from cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman. And when sound does come into the equation, it’s done so in a remarkable and glorious way. There are also some great performances, including Dujardin who not only manages to be brilliantly charming without a word of dialogue but looks the part to a tee and Bejo who is effortlessly sassy yet beautiful. And both manage to compensate for the lack of dialogue without becoming too over the top. There are also some entertaining cameos from the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell whilst it would be remiss not to mention Uggie, the Jack Russell who plays ‘The Dog’, who is so good that it led to some BAFTA voters asking whether he was eligible for an award (sadly, the answer is no).
At 100 minutes, the film does slightly drag in the final third but this is a minor quibble. It’s a film that will have old and young audience members reminded of the fact that cinema can be a truly magical medium.
The DVD and Bluray comes with featurettes and trailers but no commentary. Which is quite ironic when you think about it.
The Artist is released on 28th May on DVD and Bluray by Entertainment In Video.
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