Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius
A charming little film about a silent film star who becomes destitute when ‘talkies’ arrive and his pride stops him participating in the new phenomenon. It’s a simple story with a great hook about whether we will hear Valentin speak, but what has singled The Artist out is the unique and nostalgic quirk that it is itself a silent black and white movie.
This is not a film that is going to change the world or move you to tears but it did educate me about sound and visuals in cinema. For starters black and white is gorgeous on the big screen and all the lighting and depth of focus nuances can be fully appreciated.
Some of the visuals were too simplistic, cinema marquee titles to convey the characters’ emotional state or role for example, but mostly they enhanced the story and particularly the flavour of its charm.
What struck me the most was how aware I became of sound and how it was used to enhance the visual storytelling. Because there is no dialogue to distract your hearing there is so much more to be heard and the disconnect between lack of sound and what you’re seeing is really strong and creates unfamiliar sensations.
For example, in the opening scene we watch a cinema audience clap their hearts out and yet we hear no applause, I found this new experience rather unsettling and yet it amused and entertained me.
The award-winning score is glorious, a wonderful orchestra manipulating heartstrings and creating tension; the moment where Valentin first hits rock-bottom despair had me on the edge of my seat with my heart thumping in time to the pounding and swelling music.
One of the most powerful scenes is a dream sequence in which the music vanishes and all ordinary sounds can be heard. The audio-sensory perception is so heightened that we emotionally connect with Valentin because it is what he is experiencing and we understand how unnerving it is.
The performances are fun, with the exception of Valentin, all the characters are light and one dimensional. Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo, is as peppy and frothy as her name suggests and she lights up the screen with her neon smile and cute little wiggle; John Goodman plays the greedy producer with a heart of gold to a tee, you can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes. Penelope Ann Miller is completly wasted in such a cliched, one dimensional role, (remember how good she was in Carlito’s Way?), a cardboard cut-out would have sufficed here. James Cromwell is also underused as the lovable, loyal lackey.
The star of the show is undoubtedly Jean Dujardin, he moves effortlessly between his over-the-top film within a film performances and his actual character as the actor Valentin, and displays a wonderful range of emotions from sophisticated success to desolate destitution. He is also devastatingly handsome and oozes more charisma than a Clooney-Pitt love-child. We will definitely be seeing more of him which I for one am extremely happy about.
You will all be disappointed and somewhat surprised I am sure if I make no mention of Uggie the dog. Yes he’s cute and yes as an actor he has an uplifting backstory and yes I adored him too but he really is just there an extra piece of fluffy charm and his presence works beautifully at making us adore and sympathise with Valentin even more.
Visually stunning, utterly heart-warming and an education for this aspiring screenwriter. I would highly recommend seeing this on the big screen and give it one thumbs up out of two. I knock one off for its plethora of superficial characters.