Sunday, May 20, 2012
Silence in a Noisy World
Written and directed by: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Uggie.
Running time: 95 min.
It is interesting to watch a movie that was big in awards season a long time after the season drew to a close. The dust has settled, the naysayers are silenced as they wait for the next awards season biggie to pick on, the fan and the buzz fades away. As I write this review, it has been just under three months since The Artist won Best Picture at the Oscars. I would have loved to have seen this in the theatre but the fact that no-one knows where NZ is I was deprived of this chance. Which is a great shame. This year we have films like The Avengers and The Hunger Games being labelled as 'event' films, which brings everyone together at the multiplex and break records and the like. The Artist, a silent, black-and-white film deserved to be an 'event' film, too. Oscar or no Oscar, The Artist is a special film that brings a thing of the past to the present effortlessly. There's nothing gimmicky about it: the film is a heartfelt tribute to an era which I adore. And if I'm being completely honest with you, The Artist is the best chance I have of introducing that era to the people I know.
The Artist kind of works as a blend of A Star is Born and Singin' in the Rain, which doesn't make it the most original material, but it still works all the same. It is set on the brink of sound being introduced to film, as silent star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) enjoys his final days as a mega star before the tides change. Late in his silent career he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a young woman looking to become an actress. She starts off as a dancer in one of his films, and then works her way up the fame chain. Her voice is somewhat suited to sound, and she becomes a big hit as the new invention gains traction. However, while she enjoys her meteoric rise, Valentin is left in a state much like silent film - a thing of the past.
Despite the story's simplicity, it didn't rely on the silent factor to be the one and only thing going for it. The story is extremely heartfelt and brilliantly executed. The fact that the story has to use so few words to get it's point across is a feat in itself. Today, film's are generally made up of a lot of exposition, and when there isn't exposition, there are explosions. The Artist doesn't use either of those. The actions, the camera work, the music...they all culminate to show that you don't always need to bombard people with noise in order to get their attention. Just effective simplicity. Sure, this is nothing new. The films of the 1910's/1920's have done what The Artist has achieved in 2011. Still, there's something in the energy, the vigour and the shine of Michel Hazanavicius and his film that makes it something that can stand on it's own two feet despite being an out and proud homage to that beautiful era.
Cinema has come a long way since the 20's, with ideals changing and films becoming more reliant on the technology that we have now instead of going back to what used to be. The Artist is an impressive achievement in that aspect, with the actors being the greatest example. I don't know what it is, but actors and actresses just don't look the same as they did back in those days. However, the actors in this film look perfectly in place, and they act accordingly. Jean Dujardin, winner of this year's Best Actor Oscar, is like an amalgamation of Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. His thin moustache and playful grin gives him that movie star look from the past. His acting matches, too. Dujardin's performance is wonderful, having to go from one end of the spectrum to the other throughout the course of the film, dabbling in comedic moments and heart-breaking dramatic ones. My favourite moments were when his star was declining and he stood at the back of an empty cinema or the auction of his stuff, filled with sadness at what he had become. It is a performance that requires so much and depends on barely any words, and Dujardin does it beautifully. Also wonderful is his screen partner Bérénice Bejo, who has the most fantastic smile. Her charm and energy is infectious, but she also has some heart-breaking moments - especially when she looks at a reel of film and sees the moment when George and Peppy fell in love. She embodies the brave and sweet persona that most of the silent stars had, and like Dujardin, she couldn't have been more at home if she tried. And Uggie, sweet sweet Uggie, was every bit as great as everyone says he is.
The Artist rivals The Muppets with it's infectious happiness that made me want to get up and dance, even though it does go into some extremely dark places. Things may round off a little too conveniently, but that doesn't matter. As long as the audience is happy, and the film is happy, what more can you ask for? It isn't my favourite film of the year, but it does deserve every inch of acclaim, mainly because it managed to make sound seem like an absolute surprise in 2012.
What I got: