The Artist

1927. Life screens in silence. A cinema auditorium full of gleaming faces and clapping hands. A sombre shadow cast on a vacant film screen in an empty room. Film reels burn in an inferno of increasing self-pity. A man slumps over a flat mirror, peering at his reflection as though a stranger’s. Pours his drink over the face in the glass, creating a grey pool that looks like something out of a Dali painting. Life is surreal; suddenly people are talking.

But not the artist, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). We meet George at the height of his fame as a silent movie actor. Whilst at the top, George meets and falls for livewire, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) – peppy by name and nature. George and Peppy’s is an ideal meet-cute; she is an adoring fan and wannabe actress, he an unreachable star, unhappily married. They meet outside the premiere of George’s film, “A Russian Affair”, where Peppy is one of many screaming fans. Craftily making it across to the other side with a neat pocketbook stunt – or is it a perfect accident? – Peppy plays to the newspaper cameras and to George’s affections as she smacks him a bold kiss on the cheek. Soon enough, she’s front-page news and Peppy finally lands her big break – opposite George Valentin, no less. Before George and Peppy’s romance can even begin, talkies interrupt them. As Peppy soars to stardom as a Hollywood darling and talkie sensation – ‘They like me because they can see me and hear me’, she says to an interviewing journalist – the rise of talkies is George’s demise. As he says of terrible talkies to his manager, Al Zimmer (John Goodman), ‘If that’s the future, you can have it.’ In other words, shut up.

Elsewhere, behind the screen, stocks crash on Wall Street and the Depression looms. The world is a different place. Quiet chaos beautifully, woefully ensues. Like a film reel, George coils up in his own shell of pathos, drinking away the days and remembering the distant flicker of his former successes. In its melancholy moments, The Artist is a dark, brooding film; as self-indulgent, pathetic and proud as George. As the film goes on, it’s difficult to remember the George we met at the start, the George performing party tricks for a guffawing crowd with his sidekick show dog (who, incidentally, gives a marvellous performance), bags of gumption and a Hollywood smile. Nevertheless, the film retains its own glimmer throughout, with pinches of humour that lend a requisite frothiness, easing the heaviness with intervals of light like the silver that occasionally appears in its black and white.

Visually, The Artist is a masterpiece. Attention to detail is paramount, right down to the art deco font of the film’s opening credits, the beauty spot George pencils on Peppy’s cheek – like a painter adding his final detail – and the delicate reminders of silence inserted throughout, signs issuing pleas of quiet behind screens and on movie sets. The real artist of all this is Michel Hazanavicius, the genius writer and director who has made a silent film in 2012 not only watchable but more engaging and heartbreakingly gorgeous than many of the talkies we are all too used to watching. Nor is the acting in this silent movie, as Peppy would say, ‘mugging’ to the camera. In fact, there is no overacting in sight – except when George and Peppy are acting – as Dujardin and Bejo master playing mute; their thoughts, feelings and relationship communicated subtly and more meaningfully, adding nuance, tone and exclamation to the sublime silence. Indeed, silence is not substituted for talking in The Artist. Rather, what is not there prompts us to open our eyes and to take what is there all in. In our talkie times, where silence is second nature, The Artist is a silent film to shout about. I look forward to hearing the Oscar acceptance speeches.

5 Responses to “The Artist”
  1. aculturedlad says:

    Fantastic review. Glad you liked it! I can’t see why few people don’t. As soon as this movie ended I could’ve sat through it again very easily. Very enjoyable. Dujardin and Bajo are fantastic and the production is superb.

    Just found your blog and really like it, I’ve subbed 🙂

    Check out my review on my blog.

  2. Thanks for subscribing, and I’m glad you like the review! It’s great to see a silent movie attracting so much attention. I like to think The Artist has sold more tickets this weekend than any talkie!

  3. J. Vitorino says:

    Is this perhaps related to Paul Auster “Book of Illusions” ?

    • Didn’t have anything to do with it, no, but I do like Paul Auster and have heard good things about The Book of Illusions. I had no idea it had anything to do with silent movies! I will have to add it to my reading list. I wrote a review of Paul Auster’s Invisible a while back. Great book, definitely worth a read.

      • J. Vitorino says:

        There is a guy called Hector in Paul Auster, our guy in the Artist is Valentin, there is the narrator, Zimmer, in Paul Auster, there is also a Zimmer in the Artist (John Goodman), does Valentin vansih in 1929? I am watching the movie to see more “coincidences”. It´s lust like the movie “The Island” and the book “Never let me go” by Kazuo Ishiguro. I also love Paul Auster, read almost all his books 🙂 Highly recommend “The Brooklyn Follies” and “Sunset Park”.

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