Title: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman
Release Date: Out now
Michel Hazanavicius’ (mostly) silent feature is already awash with critical acclaim and Oscar buzz, but don’t let that colour your perceptions of this ballsy throw-back. Though by all measures a stunning homage to early Hollywood, The Artist isn’t without its flaws, and one could be forgiven for thinking that all this buzz depends almost primarily on the film’s novelty value.
Following the fall of silent star George Valentin (a superb Jean Dujardin) during the advent of talkies, and the consequent rise to fame of love interest-come-rival Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), the film tracks the highs and lows of the film industry and its stars before and during the great depression. Of course, none of this is particularly new territory. Anyone who has previously seen A Star is Born or even Singin’ the Rain should already be familiar with some of the more major plot points, and familiar with them as played out to greater effect in the aforementioned films. The most glaring issue with The Artist is that it lacks the passion and emotion required of melodrama (and Hazanavicius is keen to stress that it is a melodrama). As a film that celebrates the history of cinema, it ironically neglects to acknowledge the wealth of predecessors its archetypes are up against; ultimately, Valentin’s wounded silent actor falls flat when compared to the likes of Norma Desmond, and Peppy Miller can’t hold a candle to the flappers of yore.
Though it might seem unfair to measure this film against the canon of the Hollywood golden era, the film itself almost demands such comparisons. Thematically, visually and technically the film is rife with associations and references to films throughout Hollywood’s history. Instead of attempting to re-create the 1920s faithfully, Hazanavicius’ film is, for better or worse, a highly inter-textual celebration of films from the twenties and beyond. There are times when this approach works, such as in the subtle changes in cinematography and technique as history in the film progresses, and times when it cheapens the experience somewhat. To its credit, the script is structured with absolute precision and effortlessly holds the attention of a viewership more accustomed to loud, dialogue-fuelled fare. Also, if the Academy ever introduces an Oscar for Best Performance by an Animal, The Artist’s Jack Russell terrier, Uggie, is a definite shoe-in.
In a Nutshell: Surprisingly accessible silent film, though slightly unworthy of the hype. Worth seeing for the dog’s performance alone.