Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Artist - review

There's an old saying in Hollywood, that they "don't make 'em like that anymore".  Thankfully it seems that they do.  It's name is The Artist and it is absolutely glorious.

I was initially taken aback but upon reflection, in a year where audiences have been inundated with sequels, prequels and the diminishing returns of 3D, it turns out to be no surprise that the best film of 2011 is a black and white, silent film celebrating a bygone era of Hollywood.
Just like one of my other favourite films of this year, Midnight In Paris, it is a nostalgic look at the "Golden Age" of the twenties.  The Artist blends together elements of Singin' In The Rain, A Star Is Born and Sunset Boulevard to tell the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), one of the biggest stars of silent movies who loses everything (wife, house, fortune) when he refuses to participate in the 'gimmicky fad' that is the talking picture, instead forced to watch the meteoric rise of his one-time protege and true love Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).
It has been filmed as a 1920's silent film (shot in 1:33 ratio, black and white, dialogue cards, iris fades and wipes) but where some directors might have gone for the old grainy celluloid look, it was wisely filmed in digital producing one of the best looking black and white movies ever, matched in beauty by a sumptuous musical score by Ludovic Bource which helps to narrate the story and strengthen the emotional beats (just as the live musical accompianment would have done in cinemas during the performance).
Michel Hazanvicius has crafted a loving tribute to the silent era but is not afraid of defying conventions resulting in one of the most startling and memorable scenes of the year.  It is an absolute delight and involves a glass and a table.  It doesn't sound like much but trust me, it is.
There is always a danger that this type of project could fall into the realms of spoof or pastiche but the performances of the central duo Dujardin and Bejo prevent that, providing the film with a generous abundance of heart.
Dujardin pitches his performance just right.  He never resorts to the "shameless mugging" that silent stars were accussed of, instead finding the right balance of old school movie star charisma that slowly crumbles away to reveal the sad, broken man inside, able to switch between comedy and tragedy with ease.  One of his most delightful moments is when he "gets into character" before filming.
Bejo I imagine, like her character Peppy in the film, is destined for great things in Hollywood.  She radiates star quality and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Together they have a tangible winning chemistry that is in abundance during the scene where they are filming for the first time.  You can see the connection and attraction between them growing, take after take.
What I loved most about The Artist is that whilst it is an homage to the silent movie, it is also a celebration of the power of cinema and it took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane as to why I fell in love with movies in the first place.
A tap dance reminds me of Gene Kelly, a staircase featured in Blade Runner, a breakfast montage reminiscent of Citizen Kane, Valentin's outfit during a swordfight reminds me of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride and the use of Bernard Herrmann's Scene D'Amour stirs up thoughts of Hitchcock and Vertigo.
Normally this kind of thing can be distracting.  I for one love a good Wilhelm Scream but when it pops up in a film, I am taken out of it for a moment and remember that I'm watching a film. 
But with The Artist it is a movie about the movies, a celebration of a medium that can captivate audiences, take them on an emotional rollercoaster, transport them from the dullness of their everyday lives and take them on a magical journey, albeit just for a couple of hours.
And if The Artist wants to wishes to take me on this journey many, many times over the next few years then all I can say is... "With Pleasure".

5 stars