Monday, 23 January 2012

Future Releases Film #7

The Artist

(Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)

Rating: 5/5

Reviewed by Dave Lancaster

: Black and white silent masterpiece 'The Artist' isn't merely nostalgia; instead Michel Hazanavicius' film proves how universal film can be.

Hollywood in the late 1920s and early 1930s was in a period of fierce change. The 'talkies' had arrived and all those wonderful phsyical performers soon discovered that the public now really wanted to hear their stars as well as seeing them. Some couldn't handle both. Some studios saw this as an excuse for fresh blood.

Thus, few silent stars handled the crossover period as evidenced in great companion films 'Sunset Blvd.' and 'Singin' in the Rain'. Charlie Chaplin largely stuck to his guns but as he wrote, produced, directed and scored his own material, he was pretty much a studio in himself. The true contract players/actors for hire didn't stand much of a chance. 'The Artist' is the story of one of these men.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), one of the gifted superstars of the silent era, watches helplessly as his life implodes with the invention of sound pictures.

One of the film's early scenes brilliantly shows Valentin tied up and being tortured. He's one of those dashing Errol Flynn types, here playing a spy. The villains are pumping him with electricity trying to get him to talk and reveal the secret information. Defiant, he exclaims (via title card) that he'll never talk. The packed audience watching the film in the cinema are enthralled. Some time later when he makes his own silent picture in the sound era, the attendence is next to nothing. Inbetween those two scenes, there's another excellently constructed scene - a dream sequence where all the ambient sound effects (footsteps, glasses hitting tables etc) are deafeningly loud but Valentin's screams are silent.

Like many great silent films, 'The Artist' mixes comedy and drama exceptionally. A raise of the eyebrow can point the audience in the right direction, as can a swell of music. Modern Hollywood rarely acknowledges a smart audience, but 'The Artist' is old school in letting them fill in the gaps themselves. It makes the experience more personal. Indeed, 'The Artist' is one of the most affecting films of this generation.

The performances are extraordinary. Dujardin is a revelation, worthy of his awards streak, and he's matched perfectly by the luminous Bérénice Bejo (wife of writer/director Michel Hazanavicius) as Peppy Miller - the starstruck fan of Valentin turned superstar of the sound era who sees her career boost as his bites the dust. With John Goodman and James Cromwell in the cast and the fact that so little words are spoken, it's easy to forget that this is a French production. This is a truly universal film that says little but speaks volumes.