A joyous cinematic valentine to the silent movie era, The Artist is the most out-and-out entertaining, purely enjoyable movie to come around in years. And, yes, I know, that’s quite a claim to make of a film that doesn’t just celebrate silent filmmaking but mimics its format too.
French director Michel Hazanavicius has gone to great lengths to recreate the look and feel of early Hollywood on screen – shooting in black-and-white, deploying a sumptuous orchestral score instead of sound, and using intertitles instead of dialogue. The result, though, isn’t simply a clever pastiche but a film that pushes the audience’s buttons in a manner silent filmmakers would themselves have recognised, getting us to laugh, sigh and cry on cue as the story unfolds.
Looking every inch the part, Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a suave and dashing silent movie star in the Douglas Fairbanks mould, right down to his trim pencil moustache. On screen and off, he’s a slick charmer, never happier than when basking in the adulation of his fans. Then, at the premiere of his latest film, he semi-accidentally propels sassy young chorus girl Peppy Miller (willowy Argentinian actress Bérénice Bejo) into the limelight by bantering and flirting with her after she stumbles out of the crowd in front of the assembled press photographers. The ensuing publicity puts her on the first rung of the celebrity ladder and the arrival of the talkies shortly afterwards makes her a star. Proud and stubborn, Valentin dismisses sound as a passing fad, and as Peppy’s career ascends, his goes into decline…
Silent stars like Valentin may have been left behind with the coming of sound, but The Artist triumphantly shows that their art form can still work its magic on audiences. Hazanavicius, hitherto best known for his OSS 117 spy spoofs (which also starred Dujardin), effortlessly shifts gears between comedy and melodrama, adventure and romance and gets the tone right each time. Along the way, there are moments of pathos, great sight gags, and nifty supporting performances from John Goodman as a boorish studio boss, James Cromwell as a loyal chauffeur, and from Uggie the dog, the cutest canine sidekick since Asta in the Thin Man movies. Above all, though, The Artist is a touching love story whose exhilarating resolution will make your heart leap with joy.
Movie Talk star rating:
On general release from Friday 30th December 2011.