The Artist

13 Dec

They don’t make ’em like they used to. Well, someone does and that someone is Michel Hazanavicius, director of the The Artist which follows George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie sensation in the mould of Douglas Fairbanks who’s career drops off after the rise of the talkies while Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an extra who he introduced to acting, is rocketed to superstardom. Cleverly twisting the well-trodden path of the silent-talkie transition tale taken by films such as A Star is Born and Singin’ in the Rain, Hazanavicius has taken a bold move by choosing to tell it from the other side of the fence – the silent side.

It’s amazing that a 44 year old director could turn back the clock to the time of Murnau and Borzage and manage to convincingly pass the film off as a product of that time but Hazanavicius pulls it off spectacularly. The success of the film serves as a gentle reminder that new advances don’t have to supersede old technology. Even Charlie Chaplin, king of silent cinema, managed to resist talking until the late 30s – some time after we heard Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer in 1927. While today’s filmmakers have a myriad of technological advances that have occurred since 1927 at their disposal including colour, widescreen and a much more practical incarnation of 3D, does that mean that every new film has to utilise them? No and if ever proof were needed, The Artist is it.

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” quipped Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Sunset Boulevard. She should know – Desmond was played by Gloria Swanson, herself a faded silent film star. Luckily, two actors who clearly know how to use their face as well as their voicebox are Dujardin and Bejo who dazzle as Valentin and Miller. In particular, Dujardin, a worthy winner of Best Actor at Cannes, seems to have an array of facial expressions suitable for any situation and whether it’s a raise of the eyebrows for comedic value or a concentration of sadness that pulls at our heartstrings, he endears himself to the audience like only the silent movie stars of old could.

It’s not only Dujardin that endears himself to the audience – you can’t help but fall in love with all the charismatic individuals that have their time in front of the camera. It even has some of the best canine acting skills we’ve seen in some time, courtesy of the adorable jack russell terrier Uggy who was rightfully awarded with the prestigious Palm Dog award at Cannes. The Artist contains everything you could ask for in a film -romance, drama, comedy and even tap dancing – but crucially doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Was switching to sound the wrong thing to do? No. What was, however, was the ditching of silence and in this masterstroke, Hazanavicius teaches us that even after all these years, it’s still golden.

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