There’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Artist by this point, whether you’re an avid film fan or not. Just a week ago it received 10 nominations from the Academy and last month it came away with the Golden Globe for Best Picture: Musical or Comedy (one of the few films in that category that actually belonged there). Even the dog, Uggie, who stars in the film has been praised and walked the red carpet.
A silent film made today is bound to get attention because it’s been a long time since a film of this kind has received a wide release and because it’s a throwback to days long gone when life and movie making was, or at least seemed, a bit simpler. The truth is though that this film deserves all of the attention and accolades it’s receiving because it’s a fine film. It has great acting performances, an amazing score, beautiful cinematography and a solid script. I’d even say that the acting (as an ensemble cast) and the music are the best I’ve seen in a film in the past year.
This is the type of film you want to see on the big screen. And it’s the type of film that you often anticipate and are then frustrated and disappointed that it hasn’t arrived in your town. Thankfully, it has finally has arrived and I have to say it made me nostalgic for a past for which I was never a part.
If you’re not familiar with the plot, The Artist begins in 1927, when George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the biggest star around. It’s fitting that he won’t say a word in the opening clip of his film that’s premiering at the theater. He waits quietly backstage, behind the screen and amidst the signs that say, “Please be silent behind the screen.” That’s Valentin’s life. He was born to be silent and to make people want to watch him do so. He’s a showman on stage, embracing the spotlight and wallowing in his own vanity. In a way, he’s a star that outshines the film itself. And he’s the only one to do so until Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) comes along.
Peppy—a fitting name for someone new, young and vibrant—makes the front page after an accidental run-in with Valentin and becomes the girl everyone is fascinated by. This, of course, has some dire consequences for Valentin who is used to being the star to outshine the spotlight. Soon “talkies” become the future of film that he once scoffed at and his employer, Kinograph Studios, stop production of silent films to do talkies. Valentin becomes a stale part of the past, now without a voice more than ever.
Peppy Miller challenges Valentin because she’s a pretty face and she has the level of intrigue that he has only found in himself. She works her way up the casting lists until she reaches that inevitable stardom. They go head-to-head when her starring debut, Beauty Spot (a clever and ironic title since Valentin is the one who gives Miller the fake “beauty spot” on her face) opens the same day as Valentin’s labored Tears of Love.
Valentin is a stubborn, vain and prideful man caught in a downward spiral. His career, his relationship and his fortune are all at risk due to the simple act of talking (and the Great Crash in 1929).
Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius deserves a great deal of respect for his work here, even if he doesn’t come away with an Oscar for Best Director, Best Screenplay and/or Best Picture. The same goes for Golden Globe winner Dujardin and Golden Globe nominee Bejo, who are both nominated for an Oscar. Bejo’s scene accompanied by nothing but a tuxedo jacket, hat and stand was one of the most memorable scenes on screen in some time. She gives a truly moving performance, especially when Valentin’s downfall intensifies. It’s their execution, along with Golden Globe winner Ludovic Bource’s score make this the all-around best film of the year.
The Artist will be at the Art Theater for about a month. Studios control the reins and this is a big production—silent, artful film or not. It’s a Weinstein production and they have a little bit of sway in the industry to say the least. It’s my pick for Oscar gold. I hope you’ll go see the film and continue to support these types of films so we can all be fortunate enough to have them here, whether it’s for a week or a month, or until the next “future wave of cinema” comes along.