The Artist (2011)
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius
Country: France, Belgium
Language: Silent, English, French
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Time: 100 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
USA Release: 11/23/2011 (Limited)
On DVD (USA): 6/24/2012
Awards: 5 Academy Award Wins, 5 Academy Award Nominations, 7 BAFTA Award Wins, 5 BAFTA Award Nominations, 3 Golden Globe Wins, 3 Golden Globe Nominations
“The Artist” has to be one of the most steadily talked about films of the year (2011). From the moment that the word got out that it was going to be a silent, black & white film not to mention in full-screen critics as well as film buffs have been fascinated. All of us asked the same question long before it was even released, was this destined to be the unanimous choice for Best Picture leaving out every other film of the year? The answer is quite simply…yes!
“The Artist” begins it’s story in 1927 showing us the life of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is a successful silent film star having the time of his life making many films that both audiences and critics adore. One day after a screening of his latest film “A Russian Affair” while posing for pictures for the press he gets accidentally bumped into by average fan Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who was just trying to retrieve her purse. The incident made the front page of Varity with the headline “Who’s That Girl?” and after auditioning for a role as an extra she again finds herself in the presence of Valentin who helps get her a role in another film. But soon Valentin finds himself in trouble when a couple years later in 1929 the talkies come along and he soon finds himself struggling to work unlike the newly discovered star Peppy Miller.
Who would have guessed that someone would come along and make a full on black & white silent film? Not to mention having it be a major hit not only with critics but with audiences as well. Does this mean that movies audiences are craving more substance to their movies then just things blowing up? Who knows since “The Artist” didn’t come close to filling the theater at my screening. It still seems like many people aren’t interesting in anything black & white not to mention silent. But anyways “The Artist” has brought back a type that hasn’t been around since the late 1920’s. And like Mel Brooks’ 1976 comedy “Silent Movie” is a tribute to how influential that time period is in film history. Michel Hazanavicius who is best known before this film for the satire “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” (which also stars Dujardin and Bejo) and it’s sequel “OSS 117: Lost in Rio”. Both of those may be fairly unknown to some in the United States but have been a big hit overseas. So I expected nothing less from Hazanavicius after finding out he was the one directing and writing this. I loved the OSS 117 films and I knew that there was a good chance that I would walk away loving “The Artist” as well. Hazanavicius like a lot of my other favorite directors and writers is great at telling a story and with this especially one with little dialogue (or intertitles in this case). Although there are times that the story’s pacing seemed to slow down it still kept you engaged to what was going on. Another thing you can see is trust as he lets the actors take control and use their emotions to get the point across. “The Artist” is a truly original piece of work, especially for this day and age. And what you’ll find hidden throughout the film are reminders of other great films that seem to have really inspired this film like “Singing in the Rain” and “Sunset Boulevard”.
Hazanavicius’ work as a director is what really makes him one of my newly found favorite director/writers. Like with his other work on the OSS 117 films, he goes into a lot of detail for his design of sets and locations. He finds places that will work well for certain emotions. He along with Guillaume Schiffman as his cinematographer work well to set up interesting shots. Throughout the film we see them use side angels and high downward angels as well as many usual shots. With those more unusual shots they help creative stress, anxiety and panic along with the editing. Where as the more normal angels show romance, comedy and joy. Together Hazanavicius and Schiffman created a hole in time and transported us back to that time period where there were Flappers and the start of the talkies. Like with Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” you start to feel a sense of nostalgia while also feeling a part of something bigger, something historical.
Because this is after all is a silent film the music done by Ludovic Bource is very important to how the film is perceived, many of the emotions we feel comes from what the score tells us. We feels everything from joy to sadness as we watch these characters go through many different emotions. Bource score is bouncy, curious and carefree and then can suddenly turn dark and deafening with tension and paranoia. His score also shows a love of classic music from that time as it features four songs originally from the 1920’s, like Rose Murphy’s “Pennies From Heaven”. As well as the controversial song used from Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Vertigo” and when I say controversial it’s because of the recent bad press it has received. And beside that the piece used from “Vertigo” works well as there are some minor changes to it. Overall it doesn’t seem ripped off but a nice tribute.
There are many contributing factor to what makes “The Artist” such a charmer and half lies with what I have already written and the other half lies with it’s cast of main and supporting actors. Of those actors in the supporting roles there was John Goodman as Al Zimmer who is the head of the studio. Goodman is one of the more memorable actors in the supporting cast, fitting right into a silent film. He gives a great performance that is down right hilarious at times as he gets overly angry at Valentin or something that is going wrong. There is also James Cromwell as Clifton, he is Valentin’s valet. Clifton is more then just his valet he is a friend. Cromwell although doesn’t stick out too much as his character is just kind of there, it’s the loyalty he shows that makes him memorable. Also around is Missi Pyle and Penelope Anne Miller, who are fantastic in there very minimal roles. Pyle who is only seen in the beginning show her comedic skills and timing well as Valentin’s co-star in “A Russian Affair”. Miller on the other hand is the woman you just feel awful for as she struggles to get attention for her vain husband Valentin, and Miller does a great job of portraying all of that hostility. Although there are many other great actors in the film they have very tiny roles but all are memorable when they are seen.
Of the main cast there is one actor that goes above and beyond the call and that is Uggie the dog. He is George Valentin’s dog and is also an actor himself appearing in many of his masters pictures. Uggie is a great actor as he can portray an array of emotions. I know that might some funny to some that I’m overly praising a dog but this little guy just steals the movie and deserves some credit. Anyways moving on to Bérénice Bejo who plays Peppy Miller. Bejo like in “OSS 117” has the looks of the time period and totally embodies the spirit as well. As Peppy Miller, Bejo shows us the sudden rush of becoming a films star after a string of build up secondary roles. Her sudden success starts to turn her into someone arrogant and vain but she is quickly turned back into her self thanks to Valentin. Bejo gives a wonderful and heartfelt performance and also has excellent chemistry with Dujardin. As for Dujardin himself he does a brilliant job as George Valentin. He like Bejo totally fits in the films, looking like a silent films star as well as a Gene Kelly look-a-like. I heard Dujardin say during his acceptance speech at the Golden Globes (for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy) that many didn’t think he could be an actor because is face is to expressive and shows too much emotion, but that is precisely what he needed for this role, since it took a very expressive face to make it in silent films. And although his character like many silent films stars of the day is very vein he is also companionate when he realizes it. Dujardin is a great actor and with that expressive face sets him apart from other actors as he can use it to his advantage especially in comedy as he also has great comedic timing. One of my favorite scenes with him is when he thinks he can no longer speak and we watch as paranoia sets in and he becomes psychotic.
Overall “The Artist” is an absolute joy to watch. From beginning to end it charms you, even when there is something sad going on. Bejo and Dujardin have great chemistry and really make the film what it is along with the truly original story from Hazanavicius. You’ll get swept up with everything this film has to offer, and you’ll fall in love with Uggie the dog. “The Artist” is in my opinion the best films of 2011 with it’s courage to be different and unique as it tells this age old classic story about pride in the rarely used format from the turn of the century.