Friday, February 17, 2012

The Artist

Should I just keep my mouth shut about The Artist? No, seriously. Should I just say ‘Five Stars’ and leave it at that? Because with the avalanche of awards and Oscar nominations, my only real concern in reviewing this darling film is that fuelling the anticipation might contribute to some sort of overhype-saturation-point. How dreadful if audiences end up feeling completely jaded before they’ve actually seen the film!  
But ok, with that disclaimer in place, let the superlatives fly:

Trading on nostalgia, a soaring love of cinema, and a truckload of charm, The Artist is a film that leaves you beaming from ear-to-ear. From Ludovic Bource’s opening, bombastic score, and the wry first inter-title that proclaims, “I won’t talk!” writer-director Michel Hazanavicius is obviously having too much fun with the conventions of the silent genre. And it’s absolutely infectious. 

The story itself is deceptively simple. Just as video killed the radio star, the ‘talkies’ of the late 1920s heralded the death knell for silent film idols, which is the exact predicament our protagonist George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) finds himself in. As the film opens, George is riding high on audience adoration: they can’t get enough of his toothy grin, mugging ways and his precocious, four-legged sidekick Jack (a scene-stealing Jack Russell Terrier called Uggie). But the times they are a-changin’, and when studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) makes the switch to sound, George refuses to play along. 

Thus George’s inevitable, stratospheric fall from stardom is navigated alongside the discovery and rise of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). This aptly named wannabe actress manages to convert a cheeky photo-op with George into an extras audition, and, ultimately headline fame. Indeed, look out for the scene on the staircase where Hazanavicius playfully, and rather poignantly stages George and Peppy’s reversal of fortune. 

The Artist is filled with such artful, physical cues as Hazanavicius revels in silent communication. Although that’s not strictly true, as the film cleverly toys with sound, while Bource’s beautiful score is a character in of itself. In fact, there is much genre-driven winking at the audience, with Hazanavicius reaching through the screen like some kind of super enthusiastic tour guide; one who effortlessly entertains while bringing cinema’s history back to life. Fortunately the director and his marvelous cast (including a brilliant James Cromwell playing George’s steadfast chauffeur) stop short of overegging the pudding, resulting in a movie that celebrates film spectatorship without overindulging in irony. 

Hazanavicius has previously directed Dujardin and Bejo in the spy spoof double bill OSS 117, and their obvious ease and familiarity reaps dividends here. Goodman, Cromwell and a coy cameo from Malcolm McDowell provide familiar faces for Anglo crowds, but it’s all too easy to fall for the sparkly, smiley charms of the French leads, (not to mention the unabashed brilliance of Uggie). 

So, if you were swayed by Martin Scorsese’s glorious, Hugo-shaped public service announcement for cinephilia (and film restoration), then The Artist will redouble your conviction. It’s a deliriously, wondrously, unspeakably fabulous film. 

And yes, it’s totally worth the hype. 

5 stars

Published on TheVine

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