The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)

So here we are in 2012 – and a new year brings a new post on the first film I’ve seen in the cinema this year.  Thank you to everyone who stopped by the blog in 2011, I hope you’ll continue to check in as we boldly go into 2012, and I welcome your comments and thoughts too, of course.

I wanted to ease myself back in with something easy-going and uplifting, terms which Michel Hazanavicius’ new film seems to have been made especially for. It stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo as the likeable George Valentin and plucky Peppy Millar respectively. George is a famous silent movie star at the height of his fame, and Peppy is a young unknown looking for a way to break into motion pictures. Oh and as I’m sure you’re probably aware by now, not only is The Artist set in the era of silent film (starting in 1927) it is itself a silent film. Clever huh?

The story pits Peppy’s rise against George’s charmed life as a famous actor, known and adored by everyone. He has a hand in getting her noticed by the press, which gives her the confidence to audition for Kinograph Pictures. After a succession of bottom of the cast-list roles, Peppy gradually works her way up to near top-billing, acting alongside George on the way. The pair have a mutual attraction, but as George is married, their relationship remains purely platonic.

Things take a turn for the worse for George, however, with the advent of sound. The latest technology hits Hollywoodland (as it was then) and all the major studio’s get in line to use it in their pictures. George rejects it though, and pretty soon he is on a downward trajectory, while rising young star Peppy is perfectly placed to take full advantage of this new development.

The Artist is made with such love and affection for its subject matter, that it’s impossible not to like it. Hazanavicius’ film isn’t just a nostalgia-fest for the silent movie era, he actively uses tropes and filmmaking methods from the period in his own recreation of it. What dialogue there is (and it is pretty spare) is conveyed via intertitles; every movement and gesture is expressed for those in the back stalls as everyone acts “big”, and there is a full musical score throughout.  Though shot in colour, the film was processed in gorgeous black and white ( its images are ravishing) and the period detail is faultless.  Both Dujardin and Bejo bring great charm and gusto to their roles and look like they’re having a ball. Oh and George’s dog (played by Ugge) is an absolute scene stealer.

There are some faults, of course. The film slows and sags around about the midway point, and the storyline is quite banal, though perhaps this is unavoidable given the constraints of a silent film. For all that however, it remains a charming, funny and inventive film; just what the doctor ordered to help chase those January blues away.

The Artist is out now. Watch the trailer here:


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