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Movie Movie

by Laura Leon on January 19, 2012 · 1 comment

The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

Considering the onslaught of big-budget and 3-D extravaganzas that seem to be monopolizing the local cineplex, The Artist is a decided anomaly. For one thing, it’s in black-and-white. More significant, however, is the fact that it’s a 98-percent silent film. Mostly wordless, its action is punctuated by intertitles, and by a lush soundtrack that adds to the story’s appeal. It might seem like a precious conceit, or a stunt, but writer-director Michel Hazanavicius knows exactly what he’s doing, and the result is thoroughly charming. Hazanavicius himself has said that “there are times when language reduces communication”; the absence of dialogue in this case serves to evoke a greater sense of the poignancy and romance.

The story begins in the late 1920s, when, as any film buff knows, was about the time the silents were going the way of hoop skirts, as the “talkies” captivated the public. Screen idol George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) has the world on a string, box-office hits, a beautiful home, admiring film crews, the handsome looks of a Valentino, and a cute little Jack Russell terrier (a frequent costar) to boot. In a “meet cute” moment worthy of one of King Vidor’s silent classics, George meets Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an aspiring actress. Their spark is immediate, and George, whose wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) spends her days mutilating his publicity shots, proceeds to help Peppy on her way. George refuses to make the switch to talkies (insisting that he is an artist, not a puppet), instead focusing all his wealth and effort on filming a silent masterpiece. Of course, this being an old-fashioned movie, his film opens, and flops, on the eve of the Wall Street crash. Bereft and broke, George descends into a series of shabbier, more depressing apartments, still cared for by loyal chauffer Clifton (James Cromwell) but largely forgotten by the world. Meanwhile, Peppy’s star is ascending, but she never loses sight of what’s happening with her benefactor.

Hazanavicius borrows heavily from showbiz movies like Singing in the Rain, A Star is Born, and even Citizen Kane, but it works. Let’s face it, most movies are retreads of past stories, pastiches of plotting that we’ve seen before. The Artist is nothing if not a valentine to the power of movies to transport us into fantasy, to willingly relinquish common sense and the laws of time and space and just immerse ourselves in what’s before us. Instead of explosions and 10-car pile-ups, we are treated to the stunning visual of Peppy inserting her arm in George’s empty tuxedo, and imagining that her hand is his, fondling her hips as she leans her cheek lovingly into the lapel. It sounds goofy, but it’s exquisite and lovely—as is just about everything else in this quiet stunner.

{ 1 comment }

krensta February 4, 2012 at 12:23 pm

I saw The Artist last night. As God is my witness, I went there wanting to like this movie. I cannot believe all the hype, adulation and critical acclaim this movie is getting. It was boring. I fell asleep several times. The plot was simplistically stupid and made little real sense. Valentin could have saved us all a lot of trouble by simply deciding to talk in the new fangled “Talkies.” And there is no convincing explanation as to why he didn’t, except that he was arrogant and egotistical. Why should I be interested in or sympathetic to him? We could hear a guy several rows ahead of us snoring. It’s a gimmick movie that might have been OK in a 30-40 minute short platform. The gimmick is “Oh wow man. It’s a silent black and white movie. They haven’t made one of those, in like, a gazillion years, man.” It got tedious after the first half hour, especially the repetitive and annoying piano background music. Additionally, they did not have enough “titles” on the screen to tell you what they were saying. And my lip reading skills ain’t what they used to be. The characters are un-engaging. I couldn’t care less about them. When the lead character put the gun in his mouth, I was praying that he would pull the trigger and put us all out of our cinematic misery. I checked my indiglo watch 3 times in the darkened theater, hoping the end of the movie was near. So predictable. So cutesy and trite. So what? Money aside, I left the theater angry for wasting almost two hours that I can never get back. Even the freak’n dog is so what. ANOTHER cute, smart Jack Russel Terrier in a movie/TV program? How original is that? You mean to tell me, they actually resorted to the “cute dog” trick? So what? I don’t get it. What I do get from all the overwhelmingly positive reviews from professional movie reviewers, is that we are supposed to like this movie because they used a format that hasn’t been used in 80 years or so. In other words, we are supposed to like this movie because we are supposed to like this movie. It’s a form of mass hysteria and all I can say is ” So what?”