In this modern day of film it is not very often that something completely fresh and surprising comes along. The Artist, a Black-and-White, silent film, by French director Michael Hazanavicius and is one such film. A breath of fresh air and a pure delight to behold it deserves every bit of the acclaim it has been receiving and if there’s any justice in the world will scoop up at least a handful of Oscars come February.
Following silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), the film begins in 1927, the very year that The Jazz Singer introduced the world to the ‘Talkie’. Destroying almost as many careers as it created, many silent stars of the time became victim to the changing face of cinema as is the case in this story. Confident with his success as silent king of Hollywood, George is shocked to discover his waning popularity as the introduction of talkies leaves him and his Dog (one of the comedic highlights of the film) trailing behind as the aptly named Peppy Miller is established as the bright new star of the talking picture. An aspiring actress, who owes her career to George, has fallen in love with him but is dismayed by his fall from public favour. Played charmingly by Berenice Bejo, she pulls off the exaggerated expressions of the silent era to perfection and with charisma and beauty by the bucket-load she lights up the screen.
Following the story of the often remade A Star Is Born, The Artist is unique enough to stand on its own and does not feel rehashed by any means. With some wonderful sequences including an eerie nightmare sequence in which George discovers everything makes a noise while he remains silent, The Artist, though having very little diegetic sound, is able to include scenes such as the one just mentioned, not possible in the age of silent films. Jean Dujardin is also perfectly cast as George and portrays the frustrations and downfall of a fading star brilliantly. Both he and Bejo suit the golden age setting, really capture the look of the classic movie stars, not to mention their sparkling chemistry.
Hazanavicus’ beautiful tribute to the age of silent films is a joy to behold and his passion and dedication shine though in every scene. He handles the balance between comedy and tragedy skilfully and though it lags ever so slightly in the middle, all is forgiven by the time the credits roll.With parallels with other films focusing on the transfer from silent to sound such as the sublime Hollywood satire Sunset Boulevard and Singin’ In The Rain it’s a must see for fans of movies about movies, In fact it’s a must see for just about everyone. The artist really does prove silence is golden.