The Artist (2011)

4/5

France/Belgium/USA; Michel Hazanavicius

All Audiences

 

Hollywood 1927. Silent film superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at height of his fame and success. For Valentin, propelled by his devilish good looks, deft comic touch and boyish charisma, the sky’s the limit. But the advent of talkies will ring the death knell for his soaring stardom, while a simple but strong-minded figurant, the fizzy Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) sees her career take off astoundingly. Valentin falls into oblivion, and for a man like him not being loved by everybody is worse than death. His life spirals out of control as he runs out of money, but still there might be someone that loves him more deeply, more passionately that he has ever been loved by frenzied crowds.

Was The Artist, for the Academy Award jury members, a whim, a caprice, an exquisite baroque kink? How a French silent black-and-white motion picture harvested no less than 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor - the said film being furthermore a comedy? Actually, Hazanavicius’ latest is as funny, lighthearted and ingeniously modern an achievement you’re likely to see in many a moon. It is absolutely unique, and only too aware of its inherent limitations; as a result, the film is toying foxily with the modern viewer and never feels outdated, archaic or nostalgic. Instead, it goes off on screen like fireworks, boiling with contagious exhilaration and joie-de-vivre... How could Hollywood resist? How could anyone resist?

Undoubtedly, all the charm of The Artist lies in its lead actors. Dujardin, with raised eyebrows and thin mustache, delivers a hectic and stylish turn, infusing his character with adolescent restlessness and megastar magnetism. But he proves to be equally capable of conveying a crushing gravitas as the film takes a turn towards darker territories. He is so convincing that every inch of his appearance seems to scream: “Who needs dialogue when we have faces?”. But The Artist is not a one-man-show. Bejo illuminates the screen with her gleeful and childish performance, and her wide-eyed delight at everything is simply a pleasure to watch. John Goodman is just hilarious.

Story-wise, it is sweet, airy and tonic, but somewhat forgettable. One shouldn't forget that The Artist, far from being avant-garde, is essentially a crowd-pleaser, and Hazanavicius swiftly blunted its sharp edge so that he makes sure nobody is harmed. The ensemble revels in a clichéd, make-believed vision of the Golden Age, but, as the result rushes full steam ahead, we are very likely to sideline such minor missteps.

Visually beautiful, enormously likable, The Artist is a visual and sensorial fest. Whether it will pass the test of time remains to be seen, but its magnetism is unmatchable. Trust me, you need to see this.

 

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