Writer/Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent screen movie star in 1927 Hollywood. His audience loves him, his movies make money, and the studio will do whatever he wants. At the height of his powers he plucks Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) from obscurity and has her cast as a dancing extra in his next picture. From there their stories diverge, and yet become entangled. The studio chief (John Goodman) introduces George to the talkies and let’s him know that this is the next big thing. George disagrees and firmly plants his flag for silent films. Faced with this ultimatum, the studio chief chooses the talkies and starts to promote newer, younger stars like Peppy. George is forced to go it alone and invests his own money into his next film. As George slowly dwindles his fortune, his wife leaves him and Peppy’s star power grows. Before long his movie and her’s are opening the same night: her’s a blockbuster, and his a bust. Eventually George has to sell everything to stay solvent, and Peppy is living the good life. By the end George is desperate and manic. He is hospitalized after being rescued by his faithful dog and frequent costar, Uggie, in a fire at his apartment. Peggy comes back into George’s life and brings him back to her mansion. Once he is better, Peppy convinces Al Zimmer to put George in her latest film. Together they become a song and dance number. Also, when the director asks if they can shoot the routine again, we then learn why George was so fearful of the talkies with his short response.
The first thing you must know about The Artist is that it is in black & white. The second is that it is practically a silent film. And the third, it is a delight to watch.
Michel Hazanavicius as the screenwriter and director has created an incredible piece of work. He purposely filmed the movie in the same aspect ratio as original silent films from the 20s, the screen being more square. He also has the actors perform as if they were actors of that time, over emoting and mugging for the camera. He also knows when to use sound and title cards–it’s amazing how little dialogue you read, and how much you as an audience member can figure out by the what is going on up on the screen. As for the sound and the score, they are both used effectively. One of the best use of sound comes after George is shown the screen test for a talkie. In his dressing room he knocks over a glass and hears the sound that it makes. Next, as he moves things around and the phone rings, he hears everything as you would in the real world and it drives him mad & terrifies him–he then wakes up from his nightmare. The chaos he fears that sound will bring to the movies expertly conveyed.
All the actors are up to the task of performing in a silent film. Jean Dujardin portrays George as the diva he is in the beginning of the picture and then the hard luck case he becomes. But all the while you feel for him. The other amazing thing Dujardin does is constantly command the attention of your eye; every time he was on-screen I felt I was looking at an old movie poster where the star is front and center, their head held high, and chest puffed-out. Berenice is equally his match. At first she is the slightly awkward yet self-assured newcomer, but then she is the star. But all the while she remains compassionate. You never feel anger towards her success, even though it is coming at George’s expense.
There’s been a lot of talk of this movie not only being nominated for an Academy Award, but also winning. I think that is asking too much. However, I won’t be surprised if it is nominated, because it is that good.
Grade = A-