Who knew the film that everyone would be talking about at the beginning of 2012 would be a silent movie? THE ARTIST has soared from a century-old medium to steal the hearts of audiences everywhere, yet Hazanavicius’s story has a fundamentally modern core, with a sharper black and white lens than that of the twenties, documenting the apparent fall of a man silenced by sound and overtaken by his own art. THE ARTIST is a wonder in cinema, the dialogue written across the brow of Jean Dujardin’s proud, charismatic silent star, proving there is no need for words when film-making itself can be so breathtakingly brilliant.
The film kicks off with the opening of Valentin’s latest silent blockbuster, as he stands proudly behind screen and emerges to absorb and chivvy the applause and praise. From a chance encounter, his whirlwind of fame is permeated by extra girl Peppy Miller, a beautiful, ambitious rising star who embraces the sound that Valentin shuns. One of the film’s best sequences is the shooting of Valentin’s scene, in which take after take he comically broods his way across a dance floor, his performance quaking each time he dances with Peppy; a slick, clever scene that illustrates a romance blossom before our eyes.
What begins as a light-hearted romantic story soon descends into a more intense drama…
What begins as a light-hearted romantic story soon descends into a more intense drama as Valentin is quashed and forgotten, and Peppy rises and conquers as the queen of sound. It is this depiction of a fallen, humbled and desperate figure that adds such pathos to Valentin’s character, Dujardin giving a breathtaking, effortless performance. He combines both the Douglas Fairbanks twenties-star gravitas with a more modern, touching and deeply sincere depiction of a man struggling to retain pride as the only life he knows forgets him; he breathes life into what could have been a clichéd parody. Berenice Bejo also smoulders as the kind-hearted beauty, radiating twenties allure as she heroically reconciles Valentin with his voice.
Michel Hazanavicius has masterfully written and directed a modern classic, the story simple, intricately shot and all the while maintaining a beauty and innocence that seems as lost to contemporary cinema as the silent film itself. Sophisticated and daring, hilarious and heartbreaking, this is an unashamed ode to classic cinema that is nevertheless authentic, sincere and beautifully crafted.