Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is the story of a silent film star who meets a young dancer where the two becomes top movie stars. When the era of the talkies start to emerge, his career spirals while the dancer becomes a star of her own in the new era. The film is a homage to the world of early 20th Century cinema as Hazanavicius brings back the world of silent films into the 21st. Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Ed Lauter, Beth Grant, and James Cromwell. The Artist is an entertaining yet splendid silent film from Michel Hazanavicius.
It’s 1927 in the silent film era as George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest movie star in Hollywood. At the premiere of his new film, he is received with great praise from moviegoers as a young woman named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) accidentally stepped into the red carpet where photographers got a picture of her and George. Peppy suddenly becomes this mysterious star who eventually gets to be in a film with George as a dancer. When George’s studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) shows George that the future is in the world of sound and the talkies. George doesn’t believe that it will be the future as his pride that things won’t change. Instead, the arrival of the talkies do change things as Peppy becomes a star.
Faced with the decline of silent films and the stock market crash of 1929, George’s attempt to make a silent film bombs when it opens on the same day as Peppy’s new film. His wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) leaves him while his longtime driver Clifton (James Cromwell) is fired because George couldn’t pay him. Though Peppy enjoys life as a movie stardom, she still wonders about George whom she cared about as she regrets what she said in an interview about the death of silent films. Wanting to help him, she wants to help revive his career in a big way.
The film is about the rise and fall of a silent film star in the emergence of the talkie film era as he’s forced to watch a young extra whom he discovered become a major star of her own. Told in the silent film era style, it is a film that revels in the world of entertainment and flash of those times where it’s being threatened by this new emergence of sound in pictures. For this actor, he refuses to believe that things are changing only till he’s realized that he’s out and this young woman he discovered is in. For this young woman however, she becomes this major star though she doesn’t forget the fact that she started out in a silent film and idolized this man that gave her the break she wanted.
Michel Hazanavicius’ script is fantastic for creating this rise and fall tale in the eyes of two people where one falls and another rises. While there isn’t a lot of dialogue present except in inter-titles, it’s more about this man dealing with the idea of being obsolete as he’s forced to sell his possessions and believe that he’s washed up. Yet, he still has people including a dog named Uggie that remains loyal to him. Though times may have changed, there are those that still know who he is and care for him. While the structure and formula is familiar with the rise and fall scenario, it works to convey the world Hazanavicius wanted to explore in that world of early 20th Century cinema.
Hazanavicius’ direction is truly magical in the way he re-creates the world of the silent film era. Shooting the film in the 1:33:1 theatrical aspect ratio of its time, Hazanavicius brings back that world where it’s all about entertainment and drama told through a physical form of acting. While there are actors who talk though dialogue isn’t heard as it cuts to inter-title cards. There is a great scene where George Valentin faces that future of sound in a scene where the sound becomes big as he’s in shock over what could be the future.
The framing is quite engaging in the way he shoots more than one person in a frame while having sets made to convey that world of old Hollywood. There’s also moments where the director also creates scenes of frantic moments to play up that nightmare of changing times and despair in the eyes of Valentin. Notably in the third act as he struggles to face the idea of being obsolete and washed-up where there’s some soft lenses to heighten the melodrama. The overall work that Hazanavicius does is truly marvelous for bringing back an old era of films back to the 21st century.
Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman does a fantastic job with the black-and-white cinematography that is truly rich in its look while utilizing soft touches for some of its emotional moments. The editing by Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion is superb for its stylish cutting approach to emphasize the rhythm of the music and action that appears in the film while utilizing dissolves and montages for its stylistic flairs. Production designer Laurence Bennett, along with art director Gregory S. Hooper and set decorators Austin Buchinsky and Robert Gould, is brilliant for the set pieces creating including the studio exteriors and film sets made for the movies that are made.
Costume designer Mark Bridges does a wonderful job with the costumes from the suits that the men wear including George’s tuxedos to the more stylish and lavish clothing of Peppy in her rise to stardom. Sound mixers Gerard Lamps and Michael Krikorian, along with sound editor Nadine Muse, do excellent work in the few sound pieces created for the film which includes the famous nightmare that George would have. The music score by Ludovic Bource is phenomenal for the way it carries the film as it’s the major technical highlight of the film. Featuring bombastic yet playful pieces to more sweeping yet dramatic orchestral pieces for its despaired moments as Bource’s score is definitely magnificent.
The casting by Heidi Levitt is another major highlight of the film as features wonderful appearances from Malcolm McDowell as a butler, Ken Davitian as a pawn shop owner, Missi Pyle as George’s co-star in the film’s opening scenes, Joel Murray as a policeman, Ed Lauter as Peppy’s butler, and Beth Grant as Peppy’s maid. Other notable performances in supporting roles include Penelope Ann Miller as George’s neglected wife Doris, James Cromwell as George’s loyal butler/driver Clifton, John Goodman as boisterous studio boss Al Zimmer, and a fun performance from Uggie as Jack Russell Terrier dog called Jack.
Finally, there’s the performances of Berenice Bujo and Jean Dujardin in their respective roles of Peppy Miller and George Valentin. Bujo brings a wonderful energy and charisma to the character as well as a sense of warmth in the way she tries to help Valentin. Dujardin brings a real charm to Valentin as well as an energy as a man on top while displaying great sadness when his character has fallen. Both Bejo and Dujardin bring great physicality to the silent roles they display while proving to be amazing dancers in some of the dancing they do together as they are the acting highlights of the film.
The Artist is a majestic film from Michel Hazanavicius that features delightful performances from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bujo. The film is full of entertainment and spectacle as well as a story that audiences can be engaged by. Particularly as it revives an old style like the silent movie back and make it feel fresh again. In the end, The Artist is a triumphant and dazzling film from Michel Hazanavicius.
Michel Hazanavicius Films: (La classe americaine) - (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) - (OSS 117: Lost in Rio)
© thevoid99 2012