Friday, 13 January 2012
FILM REVIEW: THE ARTIST
It's 1927. The iconic hillside sign still reads Hollywoodland and the movies - black and white, and silent - are a relatively young entertainment but are at the height of their popularity. And George Valentin (charm personified, Jean Dujardin), a vowel shy of Rudolph and with a passing resemblance to Clarke Gable, is the leading man of choice.
But talkies (movies with sound) are on the way in, and as Valentin refuses to be wired for sound, much to the chagrin of the studio head honcho (John Goodman), his days of stardom seem to be numbered. Conversely, the fortunes of Valentin fan and wannabe starlet, Peppy Miller (a delightful Berenice Bejo), are on the rise.
Peppy fast becomes the face - and voice - of the new generation of Hollywood, and as the world enters the Great Depression, so too does Valentin. Putting all of his money into a silent epic which bombs, he's left penniless and also left by his wife (Penelope Ann Miller); his companion and co-star, Jack (Uggie the scene-stealing dog), remaining steadfast.
But will Valentin's pride be the end of him, or will Peppy, aided by Valentin's loyal chauffeur (James Cromwell) be able to avert a tragedy?
Arriving in cinemas the week after it received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and Director for Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is riding a wave of popularity, hype and, yes, backlash. But believe everything (positive) you've heard and read about The Artist: it's a beguiling piece of movie-making magic.
Like Martin Scorsese's Hugo, its main Oscars competition, The Artist celebrates cinema; past and present, old technologies and new. Some have dismissed the film by Hazanavicius, previously known for his series of secret agent spoofs, OSS 117, as a novelty and gimmick. That may be, but it's a lovingly crafted, cleverly executed one which he and his cast fully commit to.
Hazanavicius adopts the techniques of silent films - which were never truly silent to begin with - whilst occasionally using sound cleverly and judiciously. He also references a number of Hollywood classics, silent and talkie, most notably Singin' In The Rain, which The Artist shares a basic plotline, a couple of scenes which tip their hat to Citizen Kane. Even a classic line from Greta Garbo gets a run.
But you don't need to be a film buff or historian to enjoy The Artist; it's pleasures are simple but highly rewarding. Nostalgic whilst simultaneously bold - how else to describe a black and white, silent film in the digital age with 3D on the rise? - Michel Hazanavicius's love letter to cinema speaks to anyone whoever fell in love with, or at, the movies.