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The Artist (2011)

December 22, 2011

9/10 Wordless Choruses

The best silent film I’ve seen all year.

Set in 1920s Hollywood, The Artist is about a silent film star at the top of his career who takes a charming girl under his wing as she tries to make a name for herself in Tinseltown. He’s riding high and loving life, that is until “talkies” make their debut and the actor finds his forte turning into yesterday’s news. As his protege jumps on the bandwagon and becomes the latest siren of the silver screen, the actor’s pride get the best of him as he risks everything to stick with the old and write off the new as a passing fad. Much to his chagrin, the plan doesn’t quite pan out. Before long, his marriage, livelihood, and dignity start to crumble while his protege watches on, doing whatever she can to help from the shadows.

So how is awesome is it that this movie is out right now and getting all these awards and whatnot? In this day and age, you go to a studio exec and you tell ’em you want to make a silent movie about silent movies, there’s a strong chance he’ll shoot you dead and get away with it. The general assumption when there’s money on the line is that backing a project like this would be a money pit, something only movie snobs and old farts would go see. If it was my money in question, I’d probably wouldn’t risk it either, but that’s the problem. Too many studios today equate bigger budgets with better movies and are more than happy to sacrifice the story if it makes for a sweeter payday, and that’s why these movies don’t get made. It’s been a really long time since we’ve had an option like The Artist to choose from, and now that it’s here, you’ll be wondering what took so long.

Although for a lot of folks, this is a pretty tough sell. It’s not in 3D, it’s not in color, it’s starring two French people you’ve probably never heard of, it’s not even in widescreen, and when you’re not reading subtitles, you’re trying to read lips. Who am I kidding, that’s more of a death sentence than it is a tough sell. But I guess I’m not a lot of folks, ’cause before I bought the ticket, before I took the ride, I was loving this movie. I have no idea what spurned writer/director Michel Hazanavicius to take this inspired trip back in time, but that seems to be the big theme this year, doesn’t it? Woody did it with Midnight in Paris, Marty did it with Hugo, and now that Hazanavicius is doing it, seems to me like film makers aren’t too keen on the 21st Century these days. Whatever the reason, I’m behind it 100% if it’s getting us movies like these.

And nothing against Woody or Marty, but what Hazanavicius does here is just plain brilliant. It’s such a surprisingly literal approach to telling this silent story that it takes a bit of getting used to since we’re so attuned to hearing voices when mouths start moving. I have no excuse for the tragic shortlist of silent movies that I’ve seen, so walking into this was like walking into Bizarro World. Everything is shown, very little is told, and intertitles are used at an absolute bare minimum. But before you know it, it feels natural, you get sucked in, and as you follow this plot that’s driven by body language, you’ll wonder why sound was such a big deal in the first place. It’s funny, I just watched Pulp Fiction for the first time in ages recently, and as much as I love the way Tarantino writes, his characters do not stop talking. It’s not a problem with every movie because some people, like Tarantino, just know how to write dialogue, but it seems to me that the art of subtlety a dying practice.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but one of the most aggravating qualities in a person, invented or real, is the impulse to talk for the sake of talking. Apparently Hazanavicius is on the level, and I can’t praise him enough for it. All too often, film makers and studios underestimate the audience’s ability to follow along if things aren’t spelled out, but this movie is living proof of what little dialogue you need to tell a story that speaks volumes. When his characters make key statements or when conversations are held, we’ll get the occasional intertitle to keep up, but most of the time Hazanavicius just lets his wonderful cast of mutes do the talking, and the system works like gangbusters.

So the story revolves around one George Valentin who’s played by one Jean Dujardin. The only other thing I know Dujardin from is OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, another Hazanavicius joint where he stole the show as the French, attractive version of Austin Powers. If he was magnetic then, he’s a freaking hadron collider now. God, when this guy smiles, you’ll want to get up dance; when he’s at the bottom of a bottle, you’ll want to crawl in there with him. He’s just so incredibly expressive in his physicality and it’s amazing how well he pulls it off without going overboard. Dude has one hell of a face to work with and, boy, does he know how to mug with it. Still partial to Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, but Dujardin is an awfully, awfully close second for best male performance of the year.

Dujardin’s real-life wife, Berenice Bejo, is also fantastic for all the same reasons as his on-screen sweetheart, Peppy Miller. As you can image, these two have a whole lot of chemistry going for ’em and they just light up the screen when they’re together. Again, what a face, and these two can cut some rug like you wouldn’t believe. Bonus points for Valentin’s totally awesome Jack Russell Terrier who makes that Hollywood hack Lassie look like a bow-legged mutt with canine scurvy.

And while I still have to hear what Reznor and Ross put together for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, they’re gonna have some stiff competition with this score in the running. Not only is it pitch-perfect throughout and easy on the ears, it’s so cool to watch the music guide the action and vice-versa as though it’s a supporting character. Only worry is that it might not be eligible come awards season since one of songs is “Pennies from Heaven,” and that’s the kind of hooey that’s gotten some of the best scores disqualified. Freakin’ Academy…

Anyway, it’s more than deserving of all the acclaim it’s continuing to garner even if it’s not my #1 for the year. I can see how some folks would take this is as a love letter to the silent era, but to me, that’s selling it short. Aside from its great little story about love, redemption, and the tides of change; aside from its phenomenal premise that had me sold from the start; aside from the achievement it is from both a technical and storytelling standpoint; and aside from having one of the best dream sequences I’ve ever seen, The Artist is just a magical, delightful, and truly unexpected experience that grabs hold of you right up until the last two words that’ll leave you smiling from ear-to-ear. This is how you take two steps forward by taking one step back, and it couldn’t have come at a better, or more pertinent, time.

Remember this when you see Titanic in 3D next year.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Stewart permalink
    December 22, 2011 1:31 am

    Oh gosh, I am NOT looking forward to Titanic 3D haha. But really, who is?

    The Artist will probably never show in a theater near me, so I will unfortunately have to wait for the rental, though my expectations will be very high!

    Good review as always!

    • December 23, 2011 12:28 pm

      Thanks, man! And yeah, I can already see me getting roped into that one by the missus.

      The good thing is that you don’t have to see this on the big screen to get what’s so wonderful about it, but it absolutely deserves to a far wider release than it’s gotten. Hope you dig it and let me know when you get around to it!

  2. December 22, 2011 12:37 pm

    This is finally coming to my neck of the woods this weekend. Everyone has been raving about it so I can’t wait to check it out! Excellent review Aiden.

    • December 23, 2011 12:29 pm

      Thanks! Definitely check it out, everyone isn’t kidding. Hell of a way to kick off vacation.

  3. Lemon Meringue Copter permalink
    December 22, 2011 4:07 pm

    You sure about that 9/10 rating Aiden? If I go see this over the holidays and it turns out to be another “Tree of Life” fiasco you’ll be held responsible.

    • December 22, 2011 4:10 pm

      Hahaha. I really liked it, but no, you should skip it. Not your thing, trust me. Go see Mission Impossible instead, that’s a 9/10 we can agree upon.

      • February 13, 2012 2:14 pm

        I disagree, this movie was a feast to my eyes and ears. Now i may not have seen the latest mission impossible yet, but it’s a fact that the artist is a true homage to the silent film.

  4. December 22, 2011 6:47 pm

    Very excited about the Artist.

    I won’t be watching Titanic 3D though.

    • December 22, 2011 6:49 pm

      Haha. Worth getting excited over, can’t say the same for the latter though. Thanks for stopping by!

    • December 23, 2011 12:30 pm

      Hahaha. Worth getting excited about, and good call on Titanic. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. mark spence permalink
    January 29, 2012 7:32 pm

    the artist is complete and utter rubbish people who say they love this film are jumping on the luvvies bandwagon i hear these people saying theyve seen this film and giving these arty speeches of how great it is get over yourselves please .

    • February 6, 2012 11:55 am

      Lol. Well I thought it was pretty darn good. Not the best movie I saw all year, but a hell of a lot better than all the unoriginal shit that Hollywood keeps cranking out.

  6. February 24, 2012 9:39 am

    I thought the Peppy Miller character was the most adorable and charming I’ve yet to see. Glad for this film, and made a great finale to my triple-feature day. Needless to say, I’ve gone to the movies (mostly my local Mayfair Theatre Orleans) so often these past months that my coat smells like the inside of the theatre. Luckily, it’s a pleasant and comforting scent!

    • March 23, 2012 11:46 am

      Glad you liked it! What were the other two on your triple feature?

  7. Rob permalink
    February 27, 2012 8:22 am

    Walked out after 15 minutes … total crap

  8. ronnie marut permalink
    February 29, 2012 8:31 pm

    yeah total crap. and a foreign film winning an american award. shows that american movies are so much more worse than before. fuck this shit. im watching asian crap now. fuck hollywood.

    • March 23, 2012 11:40 am

      Yikes, sorry to hear that. And it actually was a totally domestic movie, shot entirely in LA, just with a French director and two French leads. But I’m with ya’, American stuff seems to progressively worse, stick to the Asian stuff.


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