This film practically came out of nowhere. One minute, it was part of the 2011 BFI London Film Festival and next, it’s the only film people is talking about.
The Artist is the melodrama of established silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who meets aspiring dancer Pepy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) during the late 1920’s. The story takes place during the transition from silent cinema to the ‘talkies’, and as Valentin’s career practically disappears in the crossover, Pepy becomes increasingly popular as a talkie actress.
The Artist is really something. Instead of being inundated with intertitles for every snippet of dialogue, they are scattered throughout the film leaving the cast, including supporting cast members John Goodman and James Cromwell, to make the most of their on-screen presence – the music (consisting of wonderful brass and strings) conveys the emotions and essentially carries the film with notable effects.
Dujardin and Bejo are wonderful to watch. Bejo’s Pepy has an on-screen magnetism not seen in a while – it is not like more recognised current actresses but she has a look belonging to the era in question. It’s more than make-up and costumes; her wide eyes and gleaming smile win you over in the comedic, as well as the emotional scenes.
Dujardin’s egotistical Valentin is one of those classic characters where the key to their fame is popularity; take that away and you’re finished. The scene when you first hear sound effects not only makes you realise how Valentin cannot handle the simple notion of sound, but also highlights how faithful The Artist is in terms of being a picture belonging to a genre established nearly 90 years ago.
Director Michel Hazanavicius’s pet project to do a silent film was only taken seriously after his spy film parodies OSS 117 were a success. His extensive research and efforts to ensure that The Artist is a respectable homage to silent cinema is admirable, and with it becoming one of the frontrunners for the 2012 awards season, it was a labour of love that was well worth the time.