Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller
Academy Awards (2012):
Best Picture: Thomas Langmann
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin
Best Achievement in Directing: Michel Hazanavicius
Best Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Ludovic Bource
Academy Award Nominations:
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo
Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius
Best Achievement in Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman
Best Achievement in Film Editing: Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
Best Achievement in Film Editing: Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
The Artist follows the careers of George Valentin (Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bejo) from 1927 through 1932. Valentin, a champion of the silent film era, sees his star fall while Miller becomes the big star with the invention of the ‘talkie.’
Filmed as a black-and-white silent film, The Artist is both unoriginal and distinctly unique at the same time. Michel Hazanavicius has made one of the only silent films since the silent film era. I feel like this would be the result if Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born had a child. It deals with the transition from silent to sound films, and also maps the rise of a young actress alongside the fall of a legendary actor of his time. Though it very well could have come out of the silent film era, the fact that it was released in 2011 makes it unique as a significant contrast to virtually everything that’s made these days.
I’ve always been skeptical, and a bit puzzled as to why this film had such critical acclaim.
I get it now.
The story is a bit predictable and cliché, but Hazanavicius has created a story that’s engaging and entertaining. Though it was frustrating at times when I couldn’t read the actors and actresses lips, Hazanavicius gives the audience enough to get the basic gist of the plot. Two strong leading performances also help make this an entertaining film.
Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo turn in fantastic performances. Though neither has had very much exposure to American audiences (Bejo was in A Knight’s Tale), they more than hold their own in a unique to 2011 type of film. Without being able to be heard, the body language and facial expressions play a much more central role in showing how their characters are coping with the changes that go on throughout the film. George is dismissive of the talkie, sure of himself that silent films would always be on top, and falls deeper into depression and despair as his fame fades. Peppy embraces the new era of filmmaking, but still cares for George in a truly genuine way. Each was rightfully nominated for an acting Oscar, Dujardin winning for Best Actor.
John Goodman works well as the blustering studio executive who is at the mercy of his stars at times, but still willing to assert his authority. James Cromwell also does well as George and later Peppy’s chauffeur. He brings that older wise person element to the film. It’s also noteworthy that Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange and Sprint commercials with James Earl Jones, among others) had a small part as The Butler, a fellow actor/extra that Peppy meets on her first day.
The only thing that really bothered me about The Artist was that it seemed to drag at times. The first 45 minutes or so seemed like 2 hours. Sometimes there are movies that I have to watch in phases, but usually that’s only if it’s 3 and a half hours long or longer. Though I didn’t take any breaks with this one, it sure felt like I would need it. Maybe it’s because the only sound for most of the film came from background music.
The Artist is a film I’ve always had my doubts about. A silent, black and white film in 2011 with as much critical acclaim and commercial success as this one had just didn’t make sense. Michel Hazanavicius pays wonderful tribute to the silent film era with a true gem that could have easily come straight out of the time period. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo work well together on screen and bring this film to life. While it’s not one I’m going to go out and buy tomorrow, it’s one I would definitely recommend watching at least once. I may even watch it again in the near future.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.