The Artist

More than just homage to black and white films, The Artist reiterates why cinema is society's most powerful form of art.

Call me a new age critic, but I must have seen only a dozen black and white films, half of which was re-mastered during the Technicolor era. Having said that, this film has shot up to the top of my list – Perfect and flawless, yet deep and heart wrenching. What a fantastic and moving experience! This is not just a throwback to the early days of cinema; this movie embodies the very heart and soul of cinema as we know it. For a B&W film, ironically, it is very vivid in its message that no matter who we are or what we have become, we should never forget our roots.

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, this is the motion picture event of 2011 and for a variety of reasons. Hazanavicius’ story is simple yet profound with several underlying messages. Set during the late ‘20s era of black and white films, it tells of the diminishing favor of silent ‘movies’ as the film industry gives into the increasingly popular ‘talkies’. As George Valentin, Jean Dujardin plays a famous but ageing silent movie star when he literally bumps into Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Although they form an instant bond, Peppy is overly charismatic and grabs the attention of studio executives with ease. Simultaneously, and with the advent of sound in films, Peppy is all the rage, while George maintains that talkies are just a fad. The inevitable happens when producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) heralds in the new era of cinema, where Peppy becomes a major Hollywood star, sending George into a tragic downward spiral.

If a picture can speak a thousand words, ladies and gents, this film is that picture. For a silent black and white film, there is so much conveyed, all through astounding facial expressions made possible by brilliant performances. French actors Dujardin and Bejo are simply flawless without uttering a single word. More than just reincarnating screen legends like Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly or Gloria Swanson, together, Dujardin and Bejo have resurrected a period in history that faded into oblivion almost a century ago. Also worth mentioning are great supporting roles from James Cromwell as George’s loyal chauffer, Goodman as the studio boss and Penelope Ann Miller as George’s uncompromising wife, with special mention to Uggie the dog – playing a vital and heart wrenching role.

 At the end of the film, standing up and clapping is the least anyone can do in appreciating Hazazavicius’ brilliantly crafted work. Without having to mention the staggering number of times this film has been acknowledged at various film festivals and award institutions, I can say that the performances, the story and the music are THE defining factors of this movie. Speaking of which, the original score by Ludovic Bource clearly sets the tone and immensely amplifies already overwhelming emotions, throughout.

With the Academy Awards just round the corner, I personally feel that The Artist, Hugo, and The Help are each worthy of being nominated for the “Best Picture”. The common thread between the first two is the obvious homage to the early days of cinema and an uncanny ‘French connection’ that binds them together. Even so, Hazazavicius may have turned the tables on Scorsese with this simple yet beautiful movie within a movie. Pun unintended.  In narrowing that down to just one choice, my heart goes out to The Artist. Sure, the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney and even Spielberg and Scorsese are often considered Hollywood’s favorite sons, but having said that, Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin have more than reiterated the quintessential soul of cinema – its integrity, its origins, its essence and why it remains society’s most powerful form of art. 

Rating: ★★★★★

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.