Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Artist

Year:  2011
Director:  Michel Hazanavicius
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring:  Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, John Goodman, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell
Genre:  Silent, drama, comedy, romance
Running Time:  100 minutes

The middle of January is obviously way too early to be talking about the greatest film of the year, but if it manages to produce anything to top The Artist than 2012 will go down as one of the greatest years in movie history.  I'm not even joking.  A black and white, French, silent film with no stars, might sound like box-office poison, at least outside of the art-house circuit and Film Festivals.  However this film has been met with rapturous critical reception and large audiences.  It is immediately obvious why when you see it because it is absolutely fantastic.

The film opens in Hollywood in 1927.  The biggest star of the day is matinee idol George Valentin (Dujardin) who has been hugely successful in a string of comic adventure films with his adorable little performing dog, Jack (Uggie the dog).  One night after a premiere he literally bumps into a young aspiring actress, Peppy Miller (Bejo), whom he helps to get her first big break.  However, Valentin's position at the top of the tree is threatened by the latest technological innovation:  sound cinema (aka "the talkies").  Initially dismissing sound as a passing fad, Valentin finds himself unable to adapt to this new style, and soon finds himself on a relentless downward spiral, while Peppy goes from strength to strength fast becoming the biggest star in Hollywood.

This charming and endlessly stylish film perfectly recreates the world of silent film, featuring such out-dated techniques as irises, wipes and intertitles.  The two lead actors give superb performances, with Jean Dujardin expertly playing the charismatic leading man, and also allowing the audience to see his darker side in the later parts of the film.  Berneice Bejo is effortlessly engaging as Peppy, and the two handle the physical sielnt comedy perfectly.  The score is brilliant, although it's inclusion of Bernard Herrmann's love theme from the movie Vertigo (1958) has proven controversial due to the hostile reaction it provoked from the actress Kim Novak, who starred in Vertigo.    

Despite being very much a tribute to the cinema of the past, this is still accessible for modern audiences.  Those who worship at the shrines of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin will doubtless love it but it will also entertain those who seem to think that cinema started with Star Wars (1977).   If nothing else it will introduce the magical world of silent cinema to a whole new audience and that is enough in itself  to make it an unqualified success. 

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are all smiles in The Artist  

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