Title: The Artist (2011)
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell
The Artist has gotten 10 Academy Award nominations this year, it is second only to Martin Scorcece’s Hugo (2011), which I placed on the number one spot on my Top Films of 2011 list a while back. But it’s easy to see why The Artist would be the second most nominated film of the year. It is a happy, lighthearted, ‘feel good’ movie and it does this while being an almost entirely silent film. Yes my friends, only one line of dialog is spoken through out the whole film! And it’s in black and white!
The story is all about an actor called George Valentin who when the movie begins is enjoying being at the top of his cinematic career. He has fame, money and everything that goes with it. If he tells the producers he wants that actress in the film, then that actress is in the film! He has one preoccupation though: the silent era of filmmaking is coming to an end and filmmakers and producers want to start using dialog and sound effects in film, something that Mr. Valentin doesn’t want to accept. You see he is of the mind that if a movie is to be good, it’s to be silent. He considers sound vulgar somehow. Because of his reluctance to accept this change, he’s career is starting to plummet. Will Mr. Valentin ever adapt? Or will his career come to a screeching halt? And who is the beautiful bomb shell dancer/actress who he’s just met?
I imagine that French director Michael Hazanavicius must have had a difficult time getting this movie green lit. I mean, telling producers you want your next film to be not only silent but also in black and white is like telling them you want your film to be a hard R! These aren’t exactly words producers love to hear. But the success of Hazanavicius’s French films gave him the leverage he needed to convince them he knew what he was doing and so The Artist got made. And it’s gotten 10 Oscar Nominations, so Hazanavicius knew what he was doing after all.
You ever see a silent film? Granted, watching a silent film can take some adjustment, you have to get in a certain mindset to watch them. You won’t hear sound effects or dialog, the dialog is transmitted through title cards and the constant classical score might get on your nerves after a while, but this Film Connoisseur says that watching a silent film can be just as rewarding as watching a ‘talkie’. Ever had the pleasure of watching F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926)? Now there’s an awesome silent film; every bit as spectacular and fantastic as any modern special effect film. How’s about Friz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)? That film left me speechless, so many themes, such rich visuals, so symbolic, such a work of art! The art direction on some of these silent films is still mind blowing in my book. I mention Faust and Metropolis because to me they are the finest examples of silent cinema; I still revisit both of these films on a regular basis because there is always something new to see in them. Silent films can still be enjoyed, if you bring your sugar rush levels down to normal levels. Sad to hear that some theaters have had to do refunds because people walked out of The Artist because they didn’t know it was a silent film. That’s just wrong. Silent films are a whole different experience, and a valid for of storytelling. They shouldn’t be shunned like that. Silent films are simply different, they rely more on images, on the visuals, on facial expressions and performances to tell your story. Plus it’s not like every single film is going to be a silent film now. The Artist is retro, it’s a look back at how things were, and it should be enjoyed for paying respects to the origins of cinema.
The film benefits from having a fantastic supporting cast, including the great John Goodman!
The best thing about The Artist is that it will more than likely leave a smile on your face. It has that charm and happy go lucky feeling that movies from that era had. Characters are smiling most of the time, the whole film has a good sense of humor to it. I couldn’t help having a huge smile on my face during the films final dance sequence. These characters won me over with their charm and charisma. Jean Dujardin, the actor who plays George Valentin is an accomplished French actor who’d work with Michael Hazanavicius in the past on Hazanavicius’s successful spy spoofs OSS 17: Cario, Nest of Spies (2006) and OSS 17: Lost in Rio (2009) two films that spoof James Bond films and spy films in general. I guess now Jean Dujardin’s career will really blast off, he’s just earned an Academy Award nomination for best actor! Berenice Bejo, the actress who plays Peppy Miller is actually Michael Hazanavicius’s wife! In this way, Hazanavicius reminds me of Fellini, who also used his wife in a lot of his films. Bejo has also received a nomination for best supporting actress, which means we will also be seeing more of her in the movies. Both actors exceeded in their roles, they have a happiness to them that’s infectious. You almost feel like that happiness is fake sometimes, which is probably true. Back in the days of silent cinema, actors always exaggerated their emotions for the screen. They always gave that dashing spectacular smile whenever cameras where rolling. Hazanavicius cought that very well on his film as well. But also, there is that kind of innocence that older films always exude, loved how the director managed to capture that era of filmmaking so well. The Artist achieved what it was going for, capturing an era.
The film plays with themes of change. About how we need to adapt to changes, or die, the world is ever changing and so should we. The Artist plays with the idea that we can’t be stubborn and try and live in the past, the past dies and we must move on. A lot of actors back in those days were stubborn and didn’t want to accept the fact that films were now going to talk. The best example was Charles Chaplin himself! Chaplin really didn’t want to talk in his films at all! This is most obvious in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) a silent film (Chaplin’s last silent film by the way) that was made during the time when films already talked; yet Chaplin refused to talk on it. Other actors talked, but he didn’t. Sound effects were heard, but we never heard Chaplin talking English. In fact, the one scene in which we do hear Chaplin’s voice in Modern Times is in a scene in which he made up his own language that sounds like Italian, but isn’t! I guess that was his way of telling us that we didn’t need words to understand him, he could talk gibberish and we could still laugh and even understand what he was trying to convey. You watch that scene in Modern Times and you do get the feeling that you understand him! But Chaplin’s stubbornness to talk shows just what an issue this was at the time for actors who were used to transmitting their performance through performance and emotion alone. This is what The Artist is about.
Chaplin eventually adapted and talked in his movies, and when he talked he really talked! The Great Dictator (1940) is a powerful film not only because of Chaplin’s amazing performance, but also because of the amazing script, the dialog is really astonishing on that film! It’s as if Chaplin said “so you want to hear me talk? Fine! Here it is, let’s see if you can take what I have to say about the world!” The Great Dictator remains one of Chaplin's most controversial films. As for The Artist, I will say that it isn’t the deepest film in the world, which is kind of odd, because films chosen for “Best Picture of the Year” are usually deep, heavy stuff. But I guess The Artist has charm to spare, and sometimes charm can take you a long way. This is a rather simple film, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do, it looks beautiful and has charismatic characters. It entertains and charms the hell out of you, what’s not to like?
Rating: 4 out of 5