Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Artist (2011)

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
Director: Michel Hazanavicius

"Why won't you speak?!"

Starting off in 1927, the movie is about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star who is at the top of his career. He fascinates audiences with his great cinematic exploits and charms a young aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). But the good life begins to fade when the new "talkies" emerge, making his style appear obsolete. George fights to stay relevant but soon realizes that he is facing the end of an era. Is it the end of him, too?

This film is great entertainment. Director Michel Hazanavicius has stated that this modern black and white silent picture was supposed to be a love letter to cinema, and it clearly shows. He is obviously a big fan of Really Old Hollywood: while I have only seen a limited number of films from that time period, I have seen enough to know how they usually operate and he captures the feel of them with spot-on accuracy. And when he does deviate from it, it is to serve a purpose. For instance, when George is first introduced to the talkies, he dismisses them as a fad and goes to his dressing room. However, in one of the best parts of the movie, he soon starts to notice that everything is making a sound...very loud sounds. He becomes overwhelmed by his surroundings before waking up from a dream, a metaphorical dream that is a sign of things to come.

The main focus is on George himself. He is, as the title implies, an artist. While he enjoys the fame and fortune, he above all loves working in movies. When talkies become the norm, he resists by making his own silent film. It flops and he is soon forced into bankruptcy. He sells off most of his possessions, but keeps his old film reels that remind him of his glory days (though they soon drive him close to madness). While it is not really explained why he does not attempt to breaking into talking pictures even when it is clear that they are the way of the future, it is implied that he is not comfortable with this new technique and that he does not want to compromise his abilities as a performer for the sake of connivence. So even though he can be pretty self-centered, prone to pity his own misfortunes, and not quick to adapt to his changing environment, you do care for him as a character because he ultimately has a heart and love for his work. A lot of credit goes to Dujardin, who has the looks and expressions of a true silent actor. The rest of the cast includes Bejo also preforms well, as does the rest of the cast, which includes minor roles by well known actors (John Goodman, James Cromwell, etc.) and a dog named Uggie (as played by Uggie). They all allow the film to flow at a good paste. While I admit that the second half is more a little more melodramatic than the first, it still has some uplifting moments. I also enjoyed the ending (which I will obviously not spoil).

So that is "The Artist." A short review, I know, but there is really not much more that need to be said. It is not the most complex film in the history and is pretty old fashion. Seriously, it is a black and white, silent picture! I am not even sure if you can get more old fashioned than this; that is virtually impossible for a full-length movie! But that is kind of the point. It is supposed to a simple, straightforward movie that mimics the bygone era it portrays and a man who must learn to find his place in life. And on that level, it succeeds splendidly.

I recommend it.

This review is dedicated to the last surviving silent film actors/actresses as of this writing, which include Carla Laemmle and Mickey Rooney.

Stay tuned for Oscar predictions, coming this week!