The Artist (2011)

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It would be quite a heartless figure indeed who managed to watch The Artist and not like it. The movie is, after all, a wonderfully designed and constructed love letter to the beauty of film as a visual medium and the way in which technological advancement has left others by the wayside while those grasping the opportunities were able to go onwards and upwards. It’s a simplistic storyline given added magic thanks to a great central gimmick – almost no dialogue throughout the entire movie and a look that emulates the classic silent. But it’s central gimmick IS a gimmick, and I find it strange that people have been clamouring to praise this one to the skies when the same people would rush to criticise another cinematic gimmick, the latest trend for 3D. I don’t want to get myself in a lot of hot water and I’m not wanting to be controversial just for the sake of it but . . . . . . . . . a gimmick is a gimmick, surely. It just so happens that the gimmick used in The Artist looks into the past whereas others often look towards a future. Now, while people are cracking their knuckles and glaring, I’d better say that I liked The Artist. It was very enjoyable.

I’m starting to suspect that 2011 was either the year when my brain turned completely to mush or the year when a number of movies appeared to critics so desperate to find the next best thing that they almost trampled over each other to praise them to the skies when they didn’t really deserve it. A lot of people know that I hated Melancholia, I thought Kill List was slightly lacking and now I have to be the voice of dissent when it comes to The Artist.

The story is a simple one – a star (George Valentin, brilliantly played by Jean Dujardin) starts to find his popularity on the wane as he helps a bright young thing (Peppy Miller, brilliantly played by Berenice Bejo) begin her stratospheric rise. Emotions rise and we see Valentin going through a number of highs and lows, tied in with the introduction of sound to the world of movies.

Nothing startlingly original there then, it’s a story that we’ve seen many, many times before. But I wouldn’t be hypocritical enough to say that a film cannot be both great AND unoriginal. The oldest tales ever told can become classic cinema if they are treated well enough. It’s just that The Artist doesn’t do that.

Writer-director Michael Hazanavicius is to be commended for providing audiences with something a bit different and so lovely and nostalgic but this material could have been so much better in any number of ways. The drama has no spectacle or sweeping grandiosity to it while the comedic aspects have no real spark or energy, instead just feeling like well-rehearsed moments as opposed to captured moments of sheer brilliance. It’s true to say that you can’t really expect anyone to film the latter but the silent classics of yesteryear felt very much like that and so the truth just sits there onscreen while The Artist plays, an elephant in the room that nobody really wants to mention – they don’t make ‘em like they used to because, in all honesty, they just can’t.
Then we have the problematic score, an aspect of the film that has also been praised to the skies. Personally, I found it erratic, obtrusive and distracting (though some moments were excellent) and it felt like an overcompensation for the lack of other noise.
Thankfully, the cast are all absolutely superb. Dujardin and Bejo shine in the central roles and feel as if they could actually have stepped out from a 20s-30s movie. There’s a quality supporting cast that features John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and a very adorable dog named Uggie.

Despite the many little failings, The Artist is certainly a wonderful film to watch and one sure to be appreciated by lovers of cinema (and a dream sequence that appears almost halfway through the movie is, to me, a classic scene). It’s just that, in my eyes, it’s not the gold-plated, modern masterpiece that many are calling it.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: MICHAEL HAZANAVICIUS
STARS: JEAN DUJARDIN, BERENICE BEJO, JOHN GOODMAN, JAMES CROMWELL, PENELOPE ANN MILLER, MISSI PYLE, UGGIE
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: FRANCE, BELGIUM

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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