“A hit in Cannes” doesn’t always translate to the Midwest. The Artist, looking and sounding all artsy, has quietly been collecting accolades and racking up award nominations. Yes, it’s mostly silent. Yes, it’s shot in art deco black-and-white. Get over it. The Artist is wonderful at everything it does, from comedy to pathos, love story to action adventure film.
We open on silent-screen star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) playing a spy. Despite the electrodes shooting electricity into his head, George will not talk. Off-screen, George also will not talk. Not to his estranged wife, who expresses her hostility by drawing villain moustaches on his dreamy star shots. Not to his Lina-Lamont-like leading lady, who seethes at being upstaged by a dog. And George certainly won’t do a ‘talking picture,’ the new sensation sweeping aside George’s starry life like King Kong bashing New York City.
He invests everything in his unwavering belief that silence is a form of art and he is one of its greatest artists. His downfall is heartbreaking, the despair offset by terrific acting and a musical score that evokes the silent screen era in all its trembling, expressive glory. And there’s the loyal dog, the loyal chauffeur and the loyal girl who George gave some of his magic to when he had it to spare. Will love, and one plucky dog, save the day?
Elements of classic movies bloom throughout the film. The breakfast table as backdrop for a fading marriage so memorable from Citizen Kane. Norma Desmond’s home movie theatre from Sunset Boulevard, flickering like a ghost. A Star is Born‘s oft-told tale of an older mentor falling while the ingenue rises. And throughout, the sly exuberance of Singing in the Rain, from George’s Gene Kelly looks and grace to Peppy Miller’s flapper cheek, recalling Debbie Reynolds. (Berenice Bejo brings Peppy to life.)
But these touches are all homage and zero rip-off. A fresher and more original movie you won’t see this year. And though George’s profession is one of a bygone era, many will relate to his heartbreak at realizing his once-valuable skills just aren’t needed anymore.
French director Michel Hazanavicius clearly loves movies and his devotion infuses every frame of the film. Go and reap the benefits.
5 out of 5 stars