Friday, 27 January 2012

Movie #11 The Artist

First things first: all you naysayers who claim that this was last year's film: forget itl! A platform release in London in four cinemas at the end of December? No no no, I'm not having it. 99% of the country got this on the 6th Janury 2012 - so it counts as this year's film!

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



  1. This was a very well-made film and had its moments where it captures the whole spirit and essence of the silent film era but it’s not that life-changing experience that everybody says it is. Still, a good flick though and I do think it does still deserve the Best Picture Oscar just because I don’t think The Descendants would be a very good winner that will last for the ages. Good review.

  2. I like this site very much. I put a link to it on my blog.Keep up the good work.

  3. Thanks both for kind comments!

    @Vern - I think your own site should be popping up on my feed too. Nice to share some love with the Twin Cities!

    @Dan - I know what you mean, it's not quite everything it's been cracked up to be but still excellent. The backlash to it has been pretty tiresome. It's very hard to make an argument that it is an objectively bad/poorly made film, but plenty of folks are trying. More fool them.