Thursday, 2 February 2012

Film Review: The Artist

The roaring twenties and George Valentin (Dujardin) is the day's silent movie superstar who becomes enamoured with budding young actress Peppy Miller (Bejo) after a chance encounter at one of his premiers. When Kinograph Studio's boss Al Zimmer (Goodman) shows Valentin the future of films he laughs off the idea of sound in movies. Refusing to get with the times, Valentin temerariously spends his fortune on directing, producing and starring in his own silent epic which goes up against Peppy Miller's breakthrough 'talkie picture'. Failing to pull in the punters and with the Wall Street Crash wiping out the rest of his assets, Valentin is confined to ruin.

You probably thought you'd never see a film like this again, the silent black and white infancy of film-making locked away in the vaults of history. In fact this might be the first of its kind you've ever seen. But The Artist, a film made in a collaboration between the French and Hollywood is a very special achievement from director Michel Hazanavicius. It is a love note to cinema, a work of painstaking adulation shown through its fastidious dedication to the 1920s and the golden era of film. The Artist is what movie magic is all about; a film that appeals across generations and stirs emotions in its unambiguous themes which evoke a childlike wonderment in ways one thought gone from cinema a long time ago. It is a prime example of how cinema first brought its audiences so much joy.

The irony of this silent picture is that one of its morals is 'if only he had listened'. George's pooh-pooh of changing times sees his career subsequently decline while Peppy embraces the introduction of synchronised sound to moviemaking as we follow her rise to stardom. George loses everything in his arrogance, including his ready-for-divorce wife, Doris (Miller), who spends all day playing Jigglypuff drawing on pictures of her husband's face in magazines. When the intermittent inter titles appear onscreen Doris adds new meaning to the words "We need to talk, George". However Peppy's unrequited adoration and loyalty to the man she recognises as having given her big break sees her adopt the role of guardian angel, of which there is a cute reference to her latest hit matinee in the film. As you can tell, The Artist is a wrought charm offensive, but it is one which is wholly endearing. Indeed, it is one you would be to sorely miss out on should you pooh-pooh the notion of a black and white silent movie made in this day and age.

What really makes The Artist is Jean Dujardin, who simply is George Valentin. You won't be able to think of him as anyone else, something facilitated by the film's premise of a movie star within a movie. So when we're shown Valentin doing numerous takes displaying what he perceives to be acting, everything he does 'off set' henceforth becomes an extension of George Valentin. This small, yet crucial scene creates the sense that this is not just some role that Jean Dujardin is playing, but events which are happening to George Valentin. But while Dujardin 'becomes' Valentin, Bérénice Bejo is by far the most effervescent ingredient on camera. She might actually be one of the most saccharine characters you'll see put to film, carrying herself with the utmost grace whilst emanating a beauty and adorableness so bright that it almost blinds. And while the innocent chemistry between Valentin and Miller familiar to another era might be the most arresting thing about this film, it would be an absolute travesty to ignore John Goodman. The Artist's biggest 'name', he is absolutely perfect as the portly, cigar chomping studio boss who, as much as he tries to be a hard-ass, is actually just a big pussycat.

The Artist is absolutely not just for snobby film buffs, and nor should it be scoffed at for its simplicity. It is a beguiling tale which reminds us how a longing look, a tear in the eye or the simple raising of an eyebrow can convey so much more than any CGI or even the spoken word ever could. It shifts effortlessly from funny to sad where the most extraordinary thing is how universal and able to connect with everyone this is. It shows us what our great grandparents saw, bringing the innocence and naivety of Hollywood's golden era coupled with a sophistication which can only be French. The Artist is probably the most charming thing you will have seen since you can remember.