What a joy it is to finally respond to the slighting “they don’t make them like they used to” –a remark that has gained ground in the current cinematic climate of soulless remakes – with these five little words: Have you seen The Artist?
The film by French director and scriptwriter Michel Hazanavicius has caused a sensation in festivals around the world (from Cannes to London) and is a passionate love letter to silent cinema. Shot in black and white in the 1.33 aspect ratio and wordless (for the most part) it plunges the audience right into one of Hollywood’s golden decades, the 1920s. The wonderful cast could have come out of a Tinseltown production of that era. Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award in Cannes) plays George Vlaentin, a movie megastar whose fame is threatened by the advent of “talkies”. He channels the legendary silent actor John Gilbert, while Bérénice Bejo mesmerises with her elegance and perkiness in the role of Peppy Miller, a young actress discovered by Valentin who quickly becomes the “It Girl” of the era. They are supported by great character actors like John Goodman and James Cromwell, effortlessly excelling in pantomime acting.
The Artist, though is not a complete pastiche of a silent film. Ludovic Bource’s continuous score is distinctly more elaborate that the orchestral music that would normally accompany the major film events of that era. Similarly, Hazanavicius uses a more sophisticated visual style from the one you could find in a 1920’s production making the film more accessible to modern film-goers.
The film’s story itself doesn’t need such innovations. While the decline of a film star is presented in a more dramatic manner compared to the similarly themed Singin’ in the Rain, The Artist doesn’t opt to be a thorough character study or a realistic expose of the ruthless Hollywood system. Instead, it aims to convey to the audience such vital emotions like sadness, happiness and love and it does so with the immediacy that characterises the work of directors like Charlie Chaplin. And it reminds us the kind of magic that cinema can still offer. (Words: Apostolos Kostoulas)
The Artist will be released nationwide on December 30.