Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Artist

DIRECTED BY: Michael Hazanavicius
WRITTEN BY: Michael Hazanavicius
STARRING: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell
RATING: 4.5 stars

There's a lot of hype surrounding The Artist. It's arguably the favourite to win the best picture Oscar and critics have showered the film with praise. You know why? Because it deserves it. The film is certainly not an obvious blockbuster and the fact that it's been shot in black and white and is mostly silent (except for one spoken line) probably doesn't sound very appealing to the masses, but I implore you to see this film. Not since Singin' In The Rain has a film so cleverly and sincerely depicted the revolutionary era of filmmaking during the transition from silent cinema to talking pictures.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist is a French film set in Hollywood in 1927. It tells the story of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his struggles with the transition to the "talkies". George finds that as his popularity diminishes, the star power of a young actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who has always admired him, is suddenly on the rise. George realises no one wants to watch silent films or an ageing actor any more. When the Great Depression hits, George's personal depressions intensifies. What does a man do when the one thing he is good at is taken away from him?

Jean Dujardin is fantastic as George. He's charming, emotive and funny. His character seems to be a blend of Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Dujardin is absolutely deserving of the Oscar buzz surrounding his performance. Bejo is also very good at emulating the style of the silent film era in the way she uses her face. She has one particularly funny and memorable scene in which she gets a little “personal” with George's coat on a hanger. The cast is well rounded with John Goodman as a film producer, James Cromwell as George's loyal driver and Penelope Ann Miller as George's bored wife.

It's interesting that this year's major Oscar contenders - The Artist and Hugo - both deal with the history of film in a unique way. The Artist blends themes from A Star is Born and Singin' in the Rain, and yet, is entirely original. Film students will study it while the general film viewer will also gain an appreciation of how much cinema has lost, grown and changed.

It's a shame that in today's fast-paced world where we're all trying to multi-task, the general film viewer is probably not going to see The Artist because who wants to sit through 100 minutes of a film without any dialogue? But those people won’t know what they are missing out on because this film beautifully depicts a time so many have forgotten, when film brought people together for escapism. What The Artist does is take viewers back to that romantic time, much like another Oscar contender, Midnight In Paris.

Aside from the technical aspects, The Artist also has a lot of heart in the way it depicts the silent film era. Even though there are some ridiculous moments of humour, it's done with respect and is a homage, not a spoof, of silent films. The film pays tribute to the era by using it's style of film-making to tell the story of its demise and show how film has changed and developed over the years. The fact is, there were a lot of silent film stars who failed to make the transition to talking pictures and George is based on some of those stars.

Sure, The Artist probably could have been cut down 15 or 20 minutes to be more appealing to the masses. Nonetheless, it is a great film that everyone should see. If you love film history, you will love The Artist. I hope it wins the best picture Oscar.


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