The Artist (2011)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

               

Do you need words in order to communicate? In the early age of film, you didn't. It was all about speaking to the audience through reactions, facial expressions, and pure soul. The Artist revisits the era of silent film in a wholly unique way... through a black and white, silent film.

 

In the 1920's, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is hot stuff. He and his little dog are the stars of cinema, in an era in which humor and comedic prowess are highly valued. He is also a heart-stopping looker, something his wife resents a bit, particularly when he literally bumps into a girl outside the theater, and is photographed with her. The headlines scream "Who Is This Girl?" She is, in fact, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring actress. Her brilliant smile, long legs, and ability to dance earn her a bit part in George's next new movie.

 

Sparks fly. Smiles are exchanged. Even the dog senses the chemistry. But then, something new crashes into George's world... talking pictures. His life is about to change forever, in ways he never anticipated.

 

This film won five Oscars, including Best Picture. To be honest, I find that a little... odd. I can see the appeal in this production purely for its novelty, but is it really that innovative to revert back to the silent era of pictures? I don't think so. Having said that, I will say that for what it is, it is well done. At first, you miss conversation, and later you realize how little was actually expressed through dialogue (believe it or not, there aren't very many of those "talking" cards inserted), but somewhere along the way you get swept up into it as purely an art form. You realize that you don't really need dialogue all the time to express what is in the heart. Just as much, and maybe more, can be said through a glance, a smile, even interaction with a dog. It is beautifully done. Some of the scenes, such as Peppy flirting with a coat on a stand, are downright charming.

 

But... to be honest, by the end I was relieved to hear sounds other than musical overtures. Everything is beautiful. The costuming, the set design, and it is lovely to see the cast act in silence. Yet, an enormous chunk of the film is downright glum, and more than a little depressing. Oh, there are the antics of the dog to cheer us up, and it's surprising how much we get wrapped up in the romance of it all, but still... we did move on to "talking pictures" for a reason. Content-wise, there's not much to worry about. There are a few profanities and a couple mild abuses of deity, more if you can read lips. A woman flips someone off. Thematic elements include a man considering suicide, and a fire that nearly claims someone's life.

 

If you love old movies, you will enjoy this immensely. The inclusion of sound is made all the more poignant by the fact that it is used sparingly... a clink of china, the tap-dancing of feet... I knew what the end would be, and still loved it. Give it a rent once, and stick it out at least twenty minutes. You may be tempted to give up on it at the offset, but you may be surprised how enjoyable it is once you get into it. It was a fun throwback to a much earlier time for me, but not likely something that I will revisit with much frequency.


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