AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Linc Leifeste | October 26, 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell
I’m worried that these words alone will scare off a certain portion of the moviegoing audience, particularly here in the good ol’ US of A: black & white, silent, French. I mean, who in the hell makes a silent movie in 2011? And who exactly is the audience for The Artist? That said, I’ll admit that I was intrigued by some of those elements when I read the Austin Film Festival write-up describing this as “a movie lover’s dream film, a tribute to the early days of silent pictures.” And I had the joy of seeing it with a near-capacity Paramount theater crowd, the majority of whom left the theater with smiles plastered on their faces. So maybe I’m being pessimistic when I worry that this brilliant film will not attract the viewing audience I believe it deserves.
1920’s silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is riding high, the cream of the film star crop, but not all is well in his world. Despite an adoring crowd of women and paparazzi following his every move, his marriage to his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) is loveless and in its painful death throes. Even more ominous is the impending rise of “talkies” and the impact the advent of talking motion pictures will have on his career. And, of course, there’s the matter of the Great Depression that is on the verge of wiping out the wealth of a nation along with that of Valentin.
Through a chance encounter (possibly), Valentin meets aspiring dancer/actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and is smitten, going on to help provide her with that much needed big break. As Miller works her way up the Hollywood ladder, unlike Valentin, she embraces the new world of talking movies. And as her stars ascends, his plummets quickly and painfully to the Earth. Eventually coming full circle, it’s Miller that provides the spark that revitalizes Valentin’s life and career.
Dujardin is nothing less than mesmerizing on screen, perfectly capturing the suave charm of old Hollywood with his physical grace and impeccable comedic timing; and Bejo is nearly his equal. The chemistry between the two is palpable and I don’t remember the last time I smiled as big in a theater as I did during their dance sequences. Nearly as impressive is Uggy the Dog’s turn in The Artist as Valentin’s loyal sidekick, both on-screen and off, the chemistry between the two equally strong.
While it seems a bit odd to refer to a film that’s clearly paying tribute to 1920’s silent films as stunningly original, I found The Artist to be nothing less. I’m willing to bet it will be unlike anything you’ve seen in the theater in recent memory. In turns beautiful, warm, witty, clever and heartwarming and featuring impeccable production and set designs, a brilliant soundtrack, wonderful sight gags and a razor-sharp script, this film’s endless details warrant multiple viewings.
The Artist is a movie-lover’s delight, managing to achieve the rare feat of transporting its audience to another time and place, of injecting a couple of hours of pure magic into an otherwise mundane day. And isn’t that why most of us fell in love with movies in the first place, for their ability to take us away from the real world to a better place, even if for only an hour or two?