Sunday, December 11, 2011

Review: "The Artist"

Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist is an absolute treasure. It is a black and white silent film set in Hollywood during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The film focuses on the declining career of a silent film star and the blossoming success of an actress. These characters, played by Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius), are flawlessly brilliant in the film. Without the luxury of spoken dialogue, the actors and the characters they play must be more expressive. And while The Artist is a French production, it was filmed in Los Angeles and features two American actors in prominent roles, John Goodman (who seems to be in everything these days!) and James Cromwell. Michel Hazanavicius deserves the bulk of the praise for this fantastic film - which he wrote, directed and edited - but I must also congratulate Ludovic Bource for the music. Considering that The Artist is a silent film, the music becomes its own character and is representative of the emotions on screen. There are very few intertitles (title cards), yet there are many verbal interactions between characters on screen. Without always having to resort to reading lips (if possible), the music helps carry the story. The Artist is edited with such deft skill that the film sustains an incredible amount of magical charm. There is one fantastic scene where Dujardin's character is suddenly able to hear the sound of objects around him but is unable to hear his own voice. Dujardin deservedly won the Best Actor prize at Cannes in May, and there is no doubt that the film will factor heavily in Oscar competition. The Artist, like Martin Scorsese's Hugo, encapsulates the magic of film. It is an expertly crafted and acted masterpiece that further proves that acting trumps special effects.

In 1927 George Valentin (Dujardin) is a world famous silent screen star. He is adored by fans. George is only willing to share the spotlight with his dog - a frequent scene-stealer. Al Zimmer (Goodman), the head honcho from the studio, has always supported him. One evening, after performing in front of an enthralled audience, George is greeted by a throng of screaming fans. One adoring fan, Peppy Miller (Bejo), drops her wallet and slips past a police officer and finds herself standing beside George Valentin. He feigns anger before posing for pictures with the young woman. Peppy becomes the toast of the town and eventually stars in films alongside George. The two have a great rapport, which begins to anger George's wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller). As the years go on, talking pictures are gaining traction. George is unwilling to indulge this passing fad. He is eventually fired by Zimmer. While George's star is fading, Peppy becomes the new it girl in Hollywood. And although Peppy has become a famous actress she has never forgotten George and goes as far as to blackmail Al Zimmer into hiring George again. Besides his canine sidekick, George's only companion through his depression is his chauffeur Clifton (Cromwell).

Many reviewers have made comparisons between The Artist and today's battle between 2D and 3D technology. I am not sure how apt this is, considering that 3D technology has a lot of improvements to make before audiences will begin to fully embrace it. And we cannot forget the ridiculous increase in ticket prices. We are already being subjected to advertisements and previews before the film. Before watching The Artist there was 20 minutes of pre-show bullshit! I think there is a much stronger comparison The Artist and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1950 Best Picture winner All About Eve. In the film, Bette Davis plays an aging actress whose career and livelihood is threatened by a young ingénue, played by Anne Baxter. George and Peppy have the same relationship as Margo and Eve, though George and Peppy are never manipulative. I was absolutely enraptured by The Artist. From the fantastic opening sequence to the brilliant final scene, it is a fantastic film that will soon be considered a classic and a masterpiece. Jean Dujardin's performance is so exceptional that I have no doubt that he will be nominated for an Oscar. He far outclasses his rivals, George Clooney in The Descendants, Brad Pitt in Moneyball and Michael Fassbender in Shame. Unfortunately, I am sure, The Artist will not reach many theatres and many audiences will be unable to see the film on the big screen.

My rating: 4 starts out of 4.

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