Just before the end of last year, came the release of Martin Scorsese’s first big-budget 3D family pic Hugo, which used a lot of the latest film technology to pay homage to the mechanics of early cinema. However, months prior to the best 3D movie, Michel Hazanavicius’ black-and-white near-silent film The Artist, has been a much loved film since its Cannes premiere and it is finally released nationwide.
Hollywood, 1927. As a silent film star at the top of his game, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) starts to worry about the arrival of talking pictures, of which he thinks marks the end of his career. Meanwhile, up-and-coming dancer Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) becomes the new big sensation of Hollywood, which is both a blessing and a curse for George as she turns out to be not just a love interest, but also a studio rival.
It’s bluntly clear that silent cinema has no home at the multiplexes, but there are reruns of classic silent pics with live musical accompaniments. Following the early announcements about The Artist, there were a number of eyebrows being raised as nowadays everything is CG and 3D (of which Hollywood studios keep telling us that this is the future). However, with the critical success and Oscar buzz surrounding the film, this is a must-see for all.
With the exception of two particular sequences, there is no sound throughout the film, apart from Ludovic Bource’s wonderful musical score which goes from tingly sweet to booming intensity, blending perfectly with the melodrama. As oppose to Quentin Tarantino’s postmodern “homage” to the grindhouse features like he did with Death Proof, Hazanavicius has a clear understanding of the mechanics of the early silent era, in as much as the actors are performing in a very physical way and the music is somewhat telling the story.
Despite the classic technical abilities, the film is so full of emotions, in terms of the narrative which is simply a love story between a huge star of his day and a star-in-the-making of the new system. Without hearing the voices of all the actors (including Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell and Malcolm McDowell), it is more about the looks and physicality as the two French leads Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo have such a presence through moments of drama, comedy and tragedy, as well as one phenomenal dance sequence.
Winner of the 2011 Palm Dog Award, the Jack Russell Terrier Uggie as George’s dog is such a scene-stealer through the most simple of dog tricks, such as “play dead” or calling for help at a policeman.
Although children will enjoy Hugo more than this, The Artist is a more credible love letter to the films of that era. Don’t see this because it is a silent film, see it because it is a great film (with a scene-stealing dog).
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS
STARRING: JEAN DUJARDIN, BERENICE BEJO, JOHN GOODMAN, UGGIE, JOHN GOODMAN, JAMES CROMWELL, MISSI PYLE, PENELOPE ANN MILLER, MALCOLM MCDOWELL
RUNTIME: 100 MINS