A new silent film! Oh, I had my fingers and toes crossed before walking into the theater. I have looked forward to this film for so long, I prayed I wouldn't be disappointed. Is it possible that this movie, which has gotten so much "buzz," could actually live up to all of the praise heaped upon it? For me, the answer is an unqualified "YES"!
The plot is as fragile as ancient nitrate film, but who cares? My head was spinning as the ghosts of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, John Gilbert, Gene Kelly, "Singing in the Rain", "A Star is Born", "Citizen Kane," "Cinema Paradiso," and "Vertigo" (Vertigo?) enveloped me in a classic cinematic embrace.
Lovingly written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist" tells the story of a great silent star who refuses to accept talking pictures and the up and coming actress whose success is cemented with the advent of sound. On the great elevator of careers, one goes up and one goes down, but can they meet in the middle?
Is it Douglas Fairbanks? Is it John Gilbert? Is it Gene Kelly? No - it's Jean Dujardin, who turns in a stunning performance. He is George Valentin, "The Artist," a man whose personality is his artistic creation. He flashes the Fairbanks ultra masculine smile, he has a Mary Pickford-like wife (Penelope Ann Miller), he dances Kelly-style and he sinks into Gilbert-like depths. He is magnetic, and he is magnificent.
Bérénice Bejo is vivacious and touching as Peppy Miller, the girl on the way up. A little bit of Clara Bow, a little bit of Nancy Carroll and a dash of Ginger Rogers, Bejo's plucky performance reminds you of that old-time glow of stardust. She is youth, she is new, but she is also a good egg and the right girl for our hero. Her scenes with Dujardin are totally charming.
Uggie as "the dog," Valentin's constant and loyal companion, rates a spot in the canine cinematic hall of fame right up there with Asta. He is not only adorable, but a major player in this story.
"The Artist" is a visually beautiful film. From the authentic 1920s-looking opening credits, to the breathtaking use of black and white film for great poetic effect, to the never intrusive but always emotional score by Ludovic Bource (with a dash of Bernard Herrmann's Love Theme from "Vertigo," used to powerful effect), this new silent film respects the genre and does not play parlor games with it. It is a silent film with all of beauty and musicality that is the hallmark of those films before sound. They were art and they were made by artists, and if you love them, then I know you will love this film. If this is your first silent film, give it a try and then work your way back to discover the true romance of film.