The Artist is the latest black and white silent film to take critics by storm and I’m not exactly sure why. It successfully recreates the look of a film made in the 1920’s and it provides you with two breakout performances, but it still feels like a gimmick. I have no problem with gimmick films that transport you back to a different period of film, but in the end it I ask myself if it was worth it besides the respectful tribute. The Artist is a little bit of both. It really does look authentic and the acting, camera work, music and everything else is given the proper handling to make it feel that much more genuine, but the film takes too long to get good, leaving you with the feeling of wanting more.
It’s 1927 and Hollywood star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the top of the mountain. He’s the most popular actor around town and his silent films are selling out. George is a happy man because he has the world in the palm of his hands. While doing a little posing for an anxious crowd George runs into Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo); a young woman with dreams of becoming a movie star just like George. She tries out for a small role in one of George’s films and the two form an instant bond.
Despite their separate career paths the two can’t stop thinking about each other. George is slowly fading out of the spotlight as Peppy rises quickly. Silent films are a thing of the past and talkies are what’s hip and in. George refuses to talk in his films and that causes his career to decline into unvisited territory. He tries his hand at directing, but eventually realizes that he’s done and there’s not much else he can do. He drifts into a depression, full of drinking and bad thoughts.
Peppy continues starring in talkies while trying to connect with George. She’s very appreciative of her new found stardom and she only wants to help the man that gave her a shot. George and Peppy start The Artist on opposite ends of the spectrum and as the film moves on they slowly come closer to each other, only to expand away and eventually come back for the finale. The Artist is a gentle film, full of innocent characters and memories of the past.
It’s a film made by someone who really loves and appreciates earlier films. Director Michel Hazanavicius takes good care of The Artist. He keeps the film strictly a black and while silent film for most of the film, while slowly adding in sound. He uses sound in a clever dream sequence that’s laugh-out-loud funny and at the same time oddly frightening and he ends the film with a transition into sound. Watching The Artist is like watching something from the 20’s. You never feel the need for someone to talk or for something modern to take over. The story is a familiar tale and everything else about the film has been done before.
One of my biggest gripes with the film is also one of the reasons why I like the film. I really do enjoy the care that was given to the film to replicate a previous way of filming/presenting movies, but I couldn’t stop feeling that it was just a gimmick. The acting feels sincere enough, but the general direction of the film doesn’t enhance the quality of the film.
The story takes its sweet time too. Things don’t really pick up until George’s career tanks and he’s left with nothing. Even then it sort of drags its feet in the gutters until Peppy comes in to pick things up. By the time George and Peppy are on screen together there’s 15 minutes left to enjoy before it’s over.
Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin are stellar as Peppy and George. Dujardin has the perfect look and posture of a top billed movie star from the 20’s and Bejo shimmers with all of her hopes and dreams coming true. Both dramatically express lines that are better watched then heard. They provide more than enough energy to keep things light and interesting.
Like I said before; the way the film looks and sounds is a perfect representation of a film from the 20’s, but it doesn’t have that warm sincere feeling that something like Martin Scorsese‘s Hugo has. Hugo feels like Scorsese’s love letter to classic cinema while The Artist feels like a film made by a director who shows talent, but only made the film for awards buzz or for the simple point of being able to recreate the style of the 20’s. It doesn’t feel sincere. Without being able to get over that major bump I can’t get behind The Artist. It’s a good film on a technical level, but an unnecessary one on every other level. It doesn’t add anything to the films it copies and it doesn’t show much purpose to exist in modern times.
The Artist – 8/10