A stunning tribute to love, success and the history of cinema, The Artist recreates the glamour and innocence of early Hollywood in its dramatic black and white frames. It is a largely silent film, but really, the story is all about sound.
The plot follows the lives of successful silent movie hero George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and ambitious young extra Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Valentin’s pride leads him to reject the introduction of sound in the movies. He laughs at the idea, storms out of the producer’s office and soon becomes a bankrupt has-been. Meanwhile, Peppy’s voice and enthusiastic personality land her a huge movie contract, making her America’s new sweetheart in the ‘talkies’. Valentin is the one who helps Peppy with her first break, and the two are infatuated with each other.
Actions speak a thousand lines of dialogue in this movie. One of the most moving images in the film is created when Peppy, still an extra, sneaks into Valentin’s empty changing room. She puts her arm through the jacket of his hanging tuxedo and wraps it around herself, pretending that it’s him. Valentin is very obviously smitten with Peppy from an earlier part in the film. However, until this point the viewer is still wondering if Peppy is just using him — this single loving gesture instantly silences all doubt.
The Artist also has some really funny moments. The physical comedy makes you laugh without a punch line. The beginning of the movie is also hilarious. We see Valentin playing a spy being interrogated and his first ever dialogue card reads, “I won’t talk, I won’t say a word”.
Making people laugh is an old talent of the film’s leading man and it its director, Michel Hazanavicius. The two actually perfected their comic chemistry working together on a popular French series of spy spoofs (OSS 117).
People may hesitate to watch The Artist because the idea of silent film seems stale and old-fashioned. However, the fact that most modern viewers are so unused to silent movies, paradoxically, makes this a fresh experience. You don’t have to be part of some pretentious niche audience to like The Artist — you just have to be open to trying something new.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 12th, 2012.
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