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Film Review: The Artist (2011)

 

The Artist is a 2011 French romantic comedy, silent film written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius. The year is 1927 and George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) is the biggest silent movie star in Hollywood, he has lots of adoring fans and a Hollywood mansion where he lives a lavish lifestyle with his wife and trusty co-star, a dog named Jack. Then one day while posing for pictures and signing autographs he accidentally bumps into adoring fan Peppy Miller (played by Hazanavicius wife and muse Berenice Bejo) who is also an aspiring dancer/actress. From this moment on their paths become intertwined. Soon after this encounter Peppy starts to get bit parts in movies dancing and acting and her star starts to rise. Meanwhile, the talk in Hollywood is focused on this great new technology that will lead to a new era of filmmaking- the talkies. The advent of talking pictures spells doom for George Valentin as he is left behind in the past with his silent films as moviegoers are swept up in the novelty of the talkies.

Hazanavicius’ first feature length film was La Classe américaine aka ‘American Class’ in 1993 which was a collage of scenes from old warner brother films edited together and dubbed with new lines to create an entirely new film. Like La Classe American, The Artist  constructs a nostalgic portrait of cinemas past through playful intertextuality, self-referentiality, pastiche and homage to film history and its icons.

The Artist has glittering and charming performances from all the cast especially from the films two leads. George Valentin is a mixture of Gene Kelly’s playful Hollywood singing and dancing roles and the suave swashbuckling hero that was Douglas Fairbanks. Valentin is essentially the personification of all silent film stars and tells the story of how the invention of sound destroyed the careers of some of the biggest stars of the time leaving them forgotten in the past (one of the most notable films that covers this is 1950s Sunset Boulevard starring silent film star Gloria Swanson). Dujardin really succeeds in creating a character that so reminiscent of actors from the silver screen and silent era. With his overstated body gestures and expressions he’s performance is oustanding: he could be the French Gene Kelly. This leads me to Bérénice Bejo’s, who’s performance as the adoring fan and rising star, was I have to say flawless. Bejo plays Peppy Miller as naïve and innocent at the start, and while she becomes more savvy to the workings of Hollywood as her career rises, she maintains her lovable innocent charm all the way through. So even though it is heart-breaking watching Valentin fade into poverty and obscurity while Peppy becomes wildly successful, you cannot help loving Peppy as she also remains George Valentin’s biggest and most loyal fan.

Silent movies have this beautifully innocent quality (much like the character of Peppy Miller) and for me is the purest form of filmmaking. The Artist is film making at its best, it captures the lost beauty and art of silent movies, while also showing the sadness felt by many when the era of silent films came to an end with the release of the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer (1927).  So while the era of silent movies is long gone, this love letter to Hollywood makes sure that that they will not be forgotten and that silent films can still speak to contemporary audiences. A must watch!

Written by Sophie Watts


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