At the movies: *The Artist*

The Artist (official movie site)

Comedy/drama, 2011 (rated PG-13)

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo

Written and directed by: Michel Hazanvicius

Synopsis, via

Hollywood 1927. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), it seems the sky’s the limit – major movie stardom awaits. The Artist tells the story of their interlinked destinies. — (C) Weinstein

One of the hottest buzzed-about films of the 2011/12 awards season is a black-and-white silent film with an international cast. The Artist snuck up on me, to be honest. A couple of months ago I knew almost nothing about it, but my interest was piqued after seeing Hugo, which shares some themes with it. Both films are valentines to the early days of motion pictures; in Hugo, they’re part of a central character’s history. In The Artist, they’re the central framework of the story.

A silent film really needs to draw on the maxim that “a picture is worth a thousand words” to tell its story. The moviemakers really did their homework, and make outstanding use of the film toolbox. The story is told visually, and the look of the film is perfect. It’s beautifully lit in crisp black-and-white and filmed in the proper scale for its time (that is, not in widescreen). The actors are wonderfully cast and skilled in the expressive balance of face and body that makes film acting unique.

However, the most important element in making this work as a film is using those pretty pictures in a compelling narrative context, and The Artist succeeds there as well. The story itself is fairly simple–a classic tale of fortunes lost and found in late 1920s/Depression-era Hollywood–and to go beyond the synopsis quoted above would stray into spoiler territory, so I won’t. The beauty of it isn’t just in the look, though; it’s in the telling. What’s conveyed through physical performance, some lip reading, and a few title cards is complete, often hilarious, and deeply touching.

The secondary theme of the relationship between a man and his dog grabbed me too, of course.

My husband is a movie buff, and here’s what he said about The Artist on Facebook: ‎”The Artist was amazing! If you love old movies, you have to see it! Beautiful film!” I can’t agree more–this is a wonderful film, suitable for all except the youngest children (who would probably be bored, sadly)–very, very recommended!

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