Friday, 27 January 2012
Movie #11 The Artist
Ahem. So The Artist, then. You've probably heard/read/seen all the hype, know about the Oscar buzz and all the rest of it: in fact, the story of the film itself threatens to overwhelm the actual plot. Yes, it's a black-and-white silent film about the end of silent film; we see this end-of-an-era via a relationship between George Valentin, a silent star, and Peppy Miller, an ingenue who stumbles into talkie stardom.
So should you believe the hype? Well, yes, I think so. There's been a fair amount of backlash to the film as well, accusing it of being a mere novelty, a short film experiment extended beyond its natural bounds. I disagree. The story - itself a classically composed plot - is charming and lovely. Despite the absence of dialogue, it's a well composed screenplay; every scene drives the story forward in some way, everything is necessary - and it's often very funny too.
It's certainly not pastiche, either. The film uses a number of devices that are quite modern, such as a dream sequence in which sound does come into play (and which also pays a subtle homage to The Birds - just one of many nods to other, older film-makers - silent and post-silent). And while The Artist is certainly sentimental, it's never arch or manipulative and believes in its characters enough to for the audience to accept their constant theatricality. Most of all, Hazanavicius views early Hollywood tenderly - this is no Sunset Boulevard, with which it shares some subjective similarity but none of the cynicism of that great film. The silent format itself works brilliantly - there is simply no other way that this story could have been told.
As to the performances, they're all superb, especially Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin in the lead roles and a Jack Russell called Uggie as Valentin's faithful dog (winner of the coveted Palme D'og at last year's Cannes). The supporting cast is packed with character actor stalwarts beloved of cinephiles - John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Malcolm McDowell and Ken Davitian among them.
The score also deserves praise, though it has also caused controversy for using (with permission) excerpts from Bernard Hermann's Vertigo score. The editing, too, is a masterclass, and the Old Hollywood 'look' has been captured to a tee - not just in the costumes, but in the landscapes and the buildings and teh motor-cars. I love movies about movies, and there are some fabulous backlot scenes and a lot of fun is had with props, scenery and so on.
But enough gushing. For all of the above, the film didn't quite hit me in that emotional sweet spot that demands repeat viewing. I admired it greatly, but didn't love it. And there are one or two picky points that I could also bring up: for all that the two lead performances are excellent, the characters are just a wee bit flat - I didn't care about them enough, or perhaps I just didn't know enough about them to care. And on reflection, I'm not sure I quite believe in the motivations of Bejo's character in her actions toward Dujardin's (though Uggie's character credibility is never in doubt, I'm happy to say).
Lets not dwell on the downers, then. The Artist is a charming, delightful film; a touch slight, maybe, but none the worse for that. As an ingenious bagatelle, a cleverly engineered entertainment, it is excellent, but the story stands on its own two feet. Worth seeing though, and definitely to be seen on the big screen