Artist, The (Review)

ARTIST, THE
(11/23/11; Silent, B&W, Drama)
Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller, Malcolm McDowell, Uggie
SCR/DIR: Michel Hazanavicius
1 hour 40 mins

In 1927, George Valentin (Dujardin) is on top of the world: he’s a beloved icon and a major silent movie star attending the premiere of his latest film, A Russian Affair. Outside the theater, Valentin is posing for pictures when a young woman, Peppy Miller (Bejo) is pushed into Valentin and thrust into the spotlight. Their chemistry is palpable.

The years pass and their fortunes change: the advent of sound and the stock market crash ruin Valentin, while Peppy becomes a box office sensation. Cromwell plays Clifton, Valentin’s devoted butler who stays with him, long after the fallen star stops paying him. And although their paths seem to diverge, Valentin and Peppy retain their chemistry through a series of memorable encounters.

To reveal more would be unfair. This widely-adored black-and-white silent film could have so easily been written off as a melodramatic novelty, but Hazanavicius invests wholeheartedly into the format and breathes new life into it. The Artist not only upholds the tenets of the silent film structure, but it transcends it with a universal plight: everyone can relate to the moment when technology threatens to upend our way of life.

Even though the silent-to-sound dilemma has propelled memorable films before (Singin’ in the Rain, for example), it’s likely never been as relevant as it is during the economic depression of the early 21st century. Dujardin and Bejo are luminous, relying only on their big, broad emotions and expressive faces. They look like movie stars, an important detail to get right.

ATTENTION TO DETAIL: The Artist was shot in the 1.33:1 screen ratio commonly used in the silent film era, and although presented in B&W, it was shot in color. To recreate the slightly sped-up look of 1920s silent films, the film was shot at a slightly lower frame rate of 22 frames per second as opposed to the standard 24 fps.

IF YOU LIKED THE ARTIST: check out the first of Hazanavicius’ pair of spy parodies, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006), which also starred Dujardin and Bejo. Dujardin also strikes quite an early Connery pose! (Weinstein Company)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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