Many modern moviegoers may be tempted to skip a new black and white silent movie. That’s a shame because to do so would be to miss a near motion picture masterpiece that is one part celebration of cinema and another part exercise in masterful storytelling. Michel Hazanavicius wrote and directed this gorgeous film that exudes nostalgia and imagination in every scene. His willingness to tackle the handicaps that accompany a black and white silent picture is admirable but I must admit I was a little worried. Could Hazanavicius recreate a believable bygone era of filmmaking or would the results be a well-intended mess? A large grin spread across my face after seeing the classic-styled opening credits and I immediately knew I was in for something special.
“The Artist” reminds us of everything that is magical about movies. It reminds us of a time when creativity trumped huge elaborate effects and million dollar set pieces. It uses black and white to it’s advantage and even though there are times that you can tell it’s intentionally being nostalgic, I never doubted it’s sincerity or integrity. Making this a silent picture was a risky approach but it works perfectly here. From Harold Lloyd to Nosferatu, I’ve been a fan of silent cinema and “The Artist” could blend right in with the best of those films. It may be a flashback to an earlier style of filmmaking but this silent movie speaks louder and says more than most of what we see coming out of Hollywood.
One of the key ingredients to the success of “The Artist” can be found in the brilliant performance of Jean Dujardin. He plays George Valentin, a popular silent movie star with the world in his hands. He revels in the attention and limelight that he gets from the starry-eyed public, an obsessed media, and the head of Kinograph Studios, Al Zimmer (John Goodman). But when the studio makes the shift from silent pictures to talkies, George finds himself pushed out and replaced by younger, fresher faces, most notably an energetic and beautiful actress named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). George’s world crumbles around him but it’s his pride that may be his ultimate undoing. Dujardin loses himself in his character and captures the essence of a silent movie performance. But as the film progresses he draws you in with his crushing and deeply moving work. Expression is essential to his performance and Dujardin nails every grin, wink, head tilt, or mannerism. It’s beautifully expressive and his charm and command of every scene makes it unforgettable.
Bejo’s performance lives up to her character’s name. She’s spirited and lively and while it could be said that she over does it in a few scenes, she encapsulates what you would expect from a young aspiring actress from that era. And her chemistry with Dujardin is magnetic. It’s also fun to see such a wonderful supporting cast many of which have small roles. The great James Cromwell, Ed Lauter, and Malcolm McDowell each have small but entertaining roles in the film. Hazanavicius uses them perfectly. And how could I not mention one of the best animal performance in movie history from Uggie the dog?
“The Artist” is a phenomenal cinematic accomplishment and Hazanavicius’ vision is rendered brilliantly through sparkling black and white and sharp direction of his incredible cast. I genuinely felt that I had traveled back in time to a more authentic and purer period of movie making. But “The Artist” isn’t all about nostalgia. At it’s core it’s a simple but beautiful drama laced with humor and romance. “The Artist” is a wonderful package from it’s visual style to it’s perfect score, from it’s razor sharp direction to it’s captivating leading man. In a year of love letters to cinema, none are better than this and it’s certainly worth all of the awards it’s sure to get.
VERDICT – 5 STARS