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Hollywood 1927. George Valentin (Academy Award Winner Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), it seems the sky's the limit - major movie stardom awaits. THE ARTIST tells the story of their interlinked destinies.
The Artist is a love letter and homage to classic black-and-white silent films. The film is enormously likable and is anchored by a charming performance from Jean Dujardin, as silent movie star George Valentin. In late-1920s Hollywood, as Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he makes an intense connection with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break. As one career declines, another flourishes, and by channeling elements of A Star Is Born and Singing in the Rain, The Artist tells the engaging story with humor, melodrama, romance, and--most importantly--silence. As wonderful as the performances by Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (Miller) are, the real star of The Artist is cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman. Visually, the film is stunning. Crisp and beautifully contrasted, each frame is so wonderfully constructed that this sweet and unique little movie is transformed from entertaining fluff to a profound cinematic achievement. --Kira Canny
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Thanks for the Ultraviolet code, you can find my copy in the second hand bin at Zia's.
If you haven't heard, THE ARTIST is a silent (at least, 99% silent) film, shot in gorgeous black and white. It's film about the time in film history when silent film was giving way to "talkies." Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a loving tribute to that era, chiefly by fully embracing the over-acting (required for silent film), the camera angles and the pacing of those films. Even his "special effects" hearken to that era. It is, simply, a marvelous exercise in what I can old call "old-fashionness."
Best of all are the two sparkling lead performances, both garnering deserved awards consideration. Ridiculously handsome Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin. He's a big silent movie star, churning out light-hearted action-adventure films (yes, he seems like a combination of Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino). His signature hero is adept at narrow escapes, hand-to-hand combat and charming the ladies. His smile is mischievous and adorable. You can instantly see why he's a star. In real life, he's equally charming...in what seems to be a genuine way. He's a likeable guy. He's enamored; first and foremost, with himself...there are several funny shots of him adoring his own image in the mirror.
One day, while being interviewed after a premiere, he literally bumps into Peppy Miller (a radiant Berenice Bejo), a fan of the star and also a wannabe actress. The two share a bit of light banter, and the press captures it all. This helps her secure a walk-on in George's next film. It is during their incredibly brief scene together, which we see being filmed through several takes, that the two fall in love. These few moments of filmmaking are among the most purely romantic, mostly startlingly detailed and yet endlessly light-hearted bits of cinema I've seen in years. Each time they must reshoot the brief dance sequence we see their fondness for each other grow. It sounds utterly implausible...but it's dazzling to behold. And you know it's a good scene, because later in the film, when we see part of it again for about 5 seconds, it's hard to fight back a tear.
Shortly after the two dance together, the studio decides to stop making silent movies. George refuses to believe talking films are the future, whereas Peppy quickly emerges as a rising star. I won't go into details, but not surprisingly, the paths of the two almost-lovers head in opposite directions. George's marriage falls apart (and it is in his lousy relationship with wife that we see George isn't just a nice guy, but is capable of selfishness and even cruelty). And he begins to fall apart too.
I don't want to say more...because while the plot of the film is actually relatively predictable, it is also told so sweetly as to seem new and fresh. Dujardin and Bejo have chemistry to spare, and give heartfelt performances. Bejo has a fragility that we scarcely see in film anymore, and Dujardin is a revelation. The two stars are ably assisted by a variety of familiar American faces, such as John Goodman and James Cromwell...but this is their film and they utterly own it.
I feel that the final scenes of the film are pretty predictable (in fact, afterwards, my family and I agreed that we sort of saw it all coming about midway through the film), and thus the emotional build that we've been going through does not get a strong pay-off. I smiled at the end, but with perhaps a little more care and creativity, I could also have been wrenched pretty well emotionally. The final scene is CLEVER...but it is calculated. All of THE ARTIST is clever and calculated...but it's imbued with an enthusiasm and love of film that makes it work so very well.
There are a few moments when we perhaps linger on a close-up of George a bit too long, or when the scenes of his films are shown just a bit too much...but otherwise the film moves along at a brisk pace. And the musical soundtrack is virtually perfect. The film MUST win an Oscar for best score...the film literally would not work without the brilliant music of Ludovic Bource.
THE ARTIST is a film of nearly unbridled passion for movies and movie-making, with a deeply romantic heart. If a black and white, silent film doesn't sound like your cup of tea...you are wrong. In about 5 minutes, you'll forget both. Treat yourself to one of the year's true movie pleasures.
The story really isn't new. It is a mash up of "Singing in the Rain," the 1952 Gene Kelly masterpiece and the numerous iterations of "A Star is Born." Valentin is the most successful actor of his time. Handsome, rugged, witty and very charming. He meets Peppy Miller, a perfectly named wannabe actress/dancer played by long-stemmed Argentine beauty Berenice Bejo. As the silent film era transitions to "talkies", Valentin doesn't. At the same time, the adorable Peppy rises to the top. Valentin loses his fortune after his self financed final film tanks and the stock market crashes. It's 1929 and George is penniless, yet still proud and defiant. After a struggle with the bottle he attempts suicide but is eventually saved by his very cute dog and then by Peppy.
While their relationship remains chaste throughout, there is a smoldering fire within each of them. Initially, George's marriage gets in the way, but his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) leaves him before all his money is lost. I watch lot of old black and white movies and even silent ones, so I was not in shock seeing this film. What may be surprising is that once you get past that, there is a wonderful romantic drama delivered by two talented actors.