The Artist (France, 2012)
Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Written by: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie, John Goodman
It’s black and white!
It’s in 1.33:1!
The Artist is such an anomaly among the world’s current film output that I’m tempted to celebrate it for no other reason than it tries something a little different. And despite the fact that it is entirely retro in style and technique, it feels like one of the more fresh and original films to be released so far in 2012.
But having said that, The Artist wouldn’t be successful if all it had going for it was a greyscale colour scheme and an old-timey piano score, just as J. J. Abrams discovered with Super 8 that it’s possible to get the nuts and bolts right and still end up with a film that pales in comparison to its forebears.
No, The Artist is also a lovely, if slight, romantic comedy which uses its gimmicky audio-visual style to harken back to an era in which there was no such thing as a gross-out comedy, and laughs had to be earned with impeccible physical timing.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) possesses the lethal combination of over-expressive acting skills and a pencil-thin mustache needed to be an adventure film mega-star, which puts him at the top of Hollywood’s pecking order in the mid-1920s. At the premiere of his latest hit feature co-starring Uggie the wonder-dog, he bumps into aspiring actress and dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an extra on her way up in the industry.
As a silent film star, Valentin is dismayed by the revolutionary talking picture and the effect it will have on his career, so he stubbornly rebukes studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and decides to sink his own money into the grandest silent action adventure Hollywood has ever seen. Things don’t go as planned, and as Peppy is enjoying her meteoric rise to becoming the biggest star in the upturned industry, Valentin struggles for relevence.
Ostensibly a comedy, it must be said that if you’re looking for belly laughs you’re better off searching out the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harry Langdon – silent-era geniuses whose timeless comedies are still hilarious today – because while The Artist will put a smile on your face, it’s pretty light-on for LOLs.
Director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin have made careers in their native France by faithfully recreating films of bygone eras, but while the 50s spy thriller spoofs known as OSS 177 haven’t made a splash in the English-speaking world, their decision to take on silent comedy was inspired. After all, even thick French accents are irrelevent in silent films.
But there’s just one problem inherent in making a silent film: you open yourself up to comparison with the heavyweights of silent comedy, whose work has stood the test of time and continues to find new audiences. It was inevitable that The Artist would enjoy rapturous receptions from industry types at Cannes and the Academy Awards, but only time will tell if people still watch it in the year 2090.
Personally, I’d rather re-watch Modern Times.