The Artist is a modern silent film by French director Michel Hazanavicus. It’s shot in black and white and stars both French and American actors. The film tells the story of a silent film star whose career collapses with the rise of the “talkies”, and a vivacious young actress who adores him but finds herself replacing him in the spotlight. Starring French actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the film has earned some high praise: Best Actor for Dujardin at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, the Palm Dog Award for the Jack Russell dog Uggy (equally well-deserved!), Official Selection Audience Award at the 2011 Leeds International Film Festival, and Best Picture award from the New York Film Critic’s Circle, among others.
The movie is a visual delight, with awesomely expressive acting from the silent cast – not the least from John Goodman who plays the disgruntled producer Al Zimmer – so that the dialogue really isn’t missed for the most part. There is one very clever sequence with sound that definitely startled me at first, and then I realized how quickly I’d become accustomed to hearing only the score.
Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin – who looks a little like Gene Kelly combined with a young Sean Connery – is charming but arrogant and self-satisfied, and he ignores his admittedly boring wife, played by Penelope Ann Miller. His all-out adorable dog co-star follows him everywhere and keeps him out of trouble.
Bérénice Bejo is the aptly named Peppy Miller, an aspiring starlet who falls for Valentin while working as an extra on one of his films. She hustles and makes her name first as a dancer and then finding a place for herself in talking pictures, while Valentin sticks his proud head in the sand and spends his fortune on independent, unsuccessful silent movies. Peppy is very likeable, chattering (silently, of course), dancing, working her “beauty spot”, mooning about over Valentin, and then eventually, with help from Uggy, saving him from his own pride and despair. James Cromwell is good as Valentin’s loyal chauffeur and Missi Pyle is hilarious as a co-star snubbed by Valentin at their film premiere.
I was utterly charmed by this movie. It is funny and winks at the audience but it’s also sincere and cleverly done. Don’t miss it! It’s a shoe-in for Best of 2011 lists.
Image via Wikipedia