The Artist

2012-03-16 18:09
 
What it's about:

George Valentin (played by French actor Jean Dujardin) is the biggest star in Hollywood during the peak of the silent movie age. When sound is introduced to filmmaking, heralding the era of the "talkies", George laughs it off as a mere gimmick and sees his career plummet as he continues to shun the new development. A young startlet, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who is discovered by George, tries to help him out of his slump.

What we thought:

There's nothing Hollywood loves more than itself and The Artist, perhaps in hindsight, since we only have that working in our favour as the film gets a local release post-Oscars, is tailor-made to be the feted by the film industry.

The Artist is all about the magic of movies, set in the 20s silent heyday which heralded the age of the matinee idol, the screen icons and celebrity, perhaps even the paparazzi.

It's this period of hyper creativity and production that The Artist longs for by choosing to tell its story in the very style whose demise it documents.

Yes, it's a silent film - the kind of film that was made before any of us were born - and black and white to boot, which instantly narrows its appeal to South Africa's broad (and generally stagnant) audience demographic.

It wouldn't surprise me if some curious local cinemagoers will walk in hoping to see what all the fuss surrounding The Artist is all about and walk out (as they did in the UK) when it dawns on them that this isn't a silent film that is likely to change it stripes halfway through and embrace the sound technology which its lead character, George Valentin, is so set against.

The advent of the talkies, which became the only type of film made in Hollywood in the 1930s, is told through the eyes of the silent era's biggest star, George Valentin - who is also a director and producer. His reaction to the first piece of test 'talkie' footage is to laugh and walk away from it derisively.

He is a man who knows what has always worked for him and is happy to stick to what he knows, and is so stuck in his ways that he appears to be oblivious to the fact that he is stuck in a loveless marriage with the surly Doris (Penelope Ann Miller).

Ultimately George's single-mindedness spells his doom as the work offers dry up and he is left alone with his trusted dog who is also his screen partner (played by the scene-stealing Jack Russell Uggie).

It's all thanks to the endless charm of the film's irrepressible duo that the audience don't write George off as a numbskull as his fortunes worsen.

Together, George and Uggie make a dashing pair. In an early scene George even favours his dog over his female co-star Constance (Missi Pyle) at a movie premiere. 

There is more than enough warm-hearted gooeyness to go around watching them together, and things only get more romantic when George meets the beautiful and bright-eyed Peppy, a young woman who starts out as his fan and ends up becoming one of the biggest stars at the start of the talking pictures era.

In a telling scene, Peppy talks to the press about how silly and old-fashioned the silent films were, with actors mugging for the camera. George overhears her comments and is infuriated, but even as this scene plays the film is only too aware that it is telling its story in exactly that way, with Peppy herself mugging for the camera.

The Artist's meta world is, however, created lovingly as French director Michel Hazanavicius (who cast his real-life wife Bérénice as Peppy) looks back at old Hollywood as someone who has spent his life admiring the silent form.

Standout scenes in which Peppy embraces George's tuxedo jacket as if he were wearing it, where George mimics Peppy's dance moves from behind a screen, and scenes from the various movie shoots they work on captures so much, if not all, of the magic of cinema.

Jean Dujardin is a true find and embodies the persona of the screen idol as both a caricature and a true artist - without saying a word. There is ample currency in that cheeky, knee-weakening grin of his and this role, plus the Oscar it awarded him, will undoubtedly propel him to bigger productions - though a Bond villain may be his ultimate fate.

Like movies of old, the romance is chaste and the sentiments are sweet and uplifting, and with its many delightful choreographed dance scenes, is closer in spirit to modern Bollywood films.

The Artist
is more than mere curiosity - it's magic in mute.
 

Beyond the black and white, silent film gimmick that is likely to repel viewers, The Artist is a dashing, charming and lovingly produced ode to old Hollywood and how it became new.
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Renee 2012/03/16 6:35 PM
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I can't wait to see this. Ster Kinekor Nouveau is the only movie theatre I even bother going to anymore. This at least looks classy.
Ricky Ferreira 2012/03/18 3:11 PM
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I just finished watching The Artist and can say that I thoroughly enjoyed. I obviously had to adjust to watching a silent film but the story and acting was great... Worth the watch
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