The Artist
Starring: Jean Dejuardin
Directed by: Michael Hazanivicus

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Myles Herod
Entertainment Editor

On the surface, The Artist is a familiar story. Love, loss, redemption – you get the idea. Its trait of distinction, mind you, is that it dares with two cinematic no-no’s in the face of anxious modernity: silence, and black and white.

This year’s Best Picture winner is a nostalgic ode to Hollywood’s dawn, where acting came from the body and the screen gushed with monochromatic silver and shade.

No film comes easy, and it is this painstakingly constructed risk that gives The Artist its elegance and purpose.

Unusually, the inter-titles (vital of the pre-sound era it mimics) are scarce, leaving the film’s director to conduct solely between musical cues and two sparkling performances.

Hollywood, 1927. Tinseltown’s golden boy, George Valentin (Jean Dejuardin, in his Oscar-winning role) is impervious to failure. Adored by the masses, his swashbuckling stature comes as no fashionable fluke – he dances, he emotes and he seduces, too.

Paired with a capering canine, both man and dog conquer the industry, appeasing public appearances with comedic jest while subsequently obstructing their co-star’s kudos.

Nevertheless, his star burns bright. Looking closely, one will see that Jean Dujardin’s face is etched with ‘classic’ features – undoubtedly the film’s secret weapon.

A finely drawn mustache akin to one Douglas Fairbanks (on which the portrayal is loosely based), a dapper smile and certain machismo to boot, the film absorbs his radiance and projects it to screen, making the silent, black and white film work for a 2012 world.

One day, amidst the rallying onlookers of his latest première, a spontaneous ‘meet cute’ ensues. Surrounded by  the surging press and crackling cameras, fate places casual fan Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) alongside George, who instantaneously ceases the magic moment to prop his swaggering ego.

Sensation transpires as the tabloids scream, ‘Who is George’s new girl?!’ Sensing a good thing, he and producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) agree to include Peppy in their next picture.

Attraction blossoms, and the married Valentin soon adopts the role of mentor to the rising starlet, taking her under his wing.

Inevitably, as The Artist reaches 1929, the advent of ‘talkies’ erupt on Hollywood’s lawn, in turn threatening Valentin’s career while propelling Peppy’s.

Persuasion does little to convince him that sound is the future. Self-absorption finds George foolishly financing a silent ‘last hurrah’ as director and star, unknowingly setting himself up for an inescapable fall from fortune and fame, ultimately alienated by his own talkie-phobia.

The film’s look is tightly gelled and charming – much like George’s debonair dress, or its deco decor.

No doubt The Artist is a beautiful looking picture. Trudging deeper, it is also cleverly crafted, sonically challenging our perceptions when real sounds are used for dramatic effect.

Above all else, The Artist is a silent movie. Commend director Michael Hazanivicius for not having compromised, where the word ‘homage’ could have easily come ascribed.

Instead, it is an engaging love triangle between Hollywood and two people who meet within its pivotal years, one representing the old guard (Barrymore, Fairbanks, etc.), the other the future of cinema (Hepburn, Davis).

I liked The Artist because it worked. Indeed it delivers in the face of detractors, with the absence of colour and sound as endearing as the three words that started it all: lights, camera, action!


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