"The Artist" is not a perfect movie, it isn't even a perfect silent film, but it is completely what the movies are all about: entertainment. Many people who do not find the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to be in touch with the average movie-going public will dismiss this as a film too artsy for them. They will believe it to be something that they could find no joy in, one of those slow moving dramas so rich in it's own history that no one but film lovers will "get it". This is, of course, not the case as anyone who likes to go to the movies will find something in "The Artist" to love. It is a charming film that is not swallowed up by what it is trying to be, but is instead an exercise in creating an honorable love letter to an era many have forgotten about in Hollywood history. I have only seen a handful or so of silent films and most of them were not of the style in which director Michel Hazanavicius has chosen to tell his story, but his film does bring the era we associate these kinds of films with to life. In the most amazing of ways we are transported back to the 20's the moment those title cards flash on the screen and the loving piano-heavy score begins to play. We watch as Hazanavicius piles on the tricks including good use of the old fashioned wipes and lens effects, but this is not so much about the lengths the makers went through to make this feel like an authentic experience but feels more relevant in the fact that this represents where we are as an artistic culture. Yearning to feel a part of that black and white era where everything felt simple and you could dance your problems away.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) escorts his co-star
(Missi Pyle) across the stage after a premiere.
As the curtain is pulled back we are immediately introduced to Jean Dujardin as Geroge Valentin, a silent film star who is relishing in the success of his latest film. In a chance meeting outside of the theater a lovely woman accidentally bumps into George and an intrigue is sparked. Little does George know this young woman is a hopeful actress by the name of Peppy Miller. The lives of these two become intertwined when Peppy is chosen as an extra on George's next film and even more chemistry between the two becomes evident. There is a wonderful moment early on when Peppy, played by director Hazanavicius's wife Berenice Bejo, finds herself alone in Valentin's dressing room. She approaches his jacket as it hangs on the rack and slips her arm through imagining it is his. There is something almost provocative about the moment while at the same time feeling a little farcical. It, in an instant, provides a moment so perfectly in tune with the ways and looks of silent films from that era that we are laughing at the trick but in awe of the response it elicits. The film spans five years as soon, talkies are introduced and George is relegated to anonymity making way for Peppy to rise as the new star of the production company where George once reigned. Faces you recognize pop up throughout with John Goodman as the studio head, James Cromwell as Geroge's loyal butler Clifton, and Missi Pyle as a co-star of George's in his heyday. We know where the story is heading the moment George and Peppy run into one another at the beginning of the movie, but this film isn't really about the story it is telling rather it is about the feeling it leaves us with.

Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) shows off her good side to a
fellow actor (Malcolm McDowell).
Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo do great work in their roles, but it should be especially noted how good Dujardin does at transporting himself into the caricature of a silent film actor and how every time the camera stops rolling he becomes someone more real but just as authentic in the environment that surrounds him. He not only captures the look in which actors of ole styled themselves but everything from the way his body moved to the facial expressions that translated his every emotion were an homage to the actors who honed these skills for years in the 1920's. I can admit that I didn't think this kind of thing was possible, that a few critics might enjoy it because of their pool of knowledge that they draw from as far as cinema goes would allow them a few inside chuckles, but I didn't believe it would reach a mass audience or even turn into something so many can find joy in. The thing that does worry me is the fact as honorable and heartfelt as this film is, it might insight folks to go back and take a look at silent films that were made years ago because they found this enjoyable. This is a tribute to those movies, a statement about society and staple of cinema that will be remembered years from now, but it is not a film that would fit right in between "City Lights" or "The General". In fact, had this come out around that time "The Artist" might have been easily looked over. What "The Artist" is to us is a kind of symbol for how present society informs the methods of yesteryear. It is a heartfelt idea, and it works within the context of 2012. As we imagined the world to be, how we hope all of our romantic thoughts about that time period might really be true.

George and Peppy find themselves sharing the silver screen
With that, "The Artist" will still win best picture at next months Academy Awards and there is no reason it shouldn't. As I said before, it is the one film that shows a true representation of where we have been, where we are and how far we've come. It is a piece of monochromatic art that is asking its audience to come with it on a journey and most will enjoy the ride for its well intentions and its pure engagement that draws you into the world. I enjoyed the movie, I thought it was a great idea that draws on things everyone knows and can relate to. It is stunning to see it all re-created so well and with such love. Just keep in mind that as you watch, the story is not the point, but instead it really is the methods of how this melodramatic and very standard tale is being delivered. It is all about the delivery, and putting yourself in a crowd as if you were watching alongside audience members draped in 20's garb and enjoying for the first time the spectacle of two charismatic, charming people dancing their hearts out on stage. If you still aren't convinced you won't be bored watching a silent film in today's world of big budget special effects laden blockbusters there is also a cute little dog that might help you get past that fact and help you find enjoyable what so many others have already called their movie of the year. "The Artist" is not my movie of the year, but it is one that is well worth investing your time and heart in.

No comments:

Post a Comment