Movie Review: The Artist.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Reviewed: 22 January 2012
jamesintexas rating--*** (4 Stars = Highest Rating)
I should preface this review by stating that I have been very tardy in posting film reviews, and since it is something that I love to do, I need to recommitment myself to writing about the amazing films I see. Additionally, The Artist is a silent film, an artifact of an era that I am woefully ignorant with regards to seeing and appreciating. I have never seen a true silent film, and to a certain extent, I appreciated Hazanavicius's work here, but I am not capable (yet) of fully understanding or appreciating the genre. I haven't even seen Singing in the Rain.
Shot in gorgeous black and white, The Artist depicts an aging silent film star George Valentin (Golden Globe winner Jean Dujardin with a pencil-thin mustache, great hair, and a classic leading man's style, I think meant to evoke Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, but I've sadly never seen a film with either of those actors) who symbolically ( and literally in multiple scenes) finds his career descending while the talkies emerge, represented by a plucky young ingenue Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) whom he meets cute on the set of one of his silent films.
The experience of being in a theater with an audience and only hearing music and at times silence is quite arresting. It takes getting used to, though amazingly, the little dialogue that is carded out does not keep us from comprehending what is going on and even lip-reading the actors. There's a wonderful hammy little dog that steals scenes with his fun tricks, John Goodman as a producer concerned with the next big thing, as well as James Cromwell as Valentin's loyal driver. The plot is little to speak of; Valentin wanders around late 1920's, early 1930's Hollywood, owning and then losing his position on the movie set, fighting against and ultimately losing to the wave of talking films that replaces the silent era. He keeps bumping into Peppy, and cute montages depict Valentin's deteriorating relationship with his wife (Penelope Ann Miller), Peppy's rise to stardom, and his hubris in directing himself in his own feature which flops.
I loved the musical score of this film until the very end, when Hazanavicius employs the classic Vertigo score from Bernard Hermann for a very specific scene, and sadly, it took me out of the film entirely. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time, and the obsessiveness of Jimmy Stewart stalking the streets of San Francisco for Kim Novak is not parallel in any way to the fall of Valentin and his own obsession. It is a wrong note in a film that balances precariously at times between comedy and darkness, manic energy and lethargy. At one point, I started to nod off in the latter third of the film, maybe a sign of my tiredness, maybe a reaction to not hearing human voices in a film for an extended period of time. There is a curious jumping of tones and seriousness into silliness that at times did not work for me.
I found myself comparing this film, strangely, to Rob Marshall's Chicago, a dazzling blending of the internal fantasies of Roxie Hart and the real world around her. Yet that film succeeds gloriously with a show-stopping finale while The Artist seems to be trying really, really hard to send us off with smiles. The final scene is aiming at great profundity, but I'm not sure it ever reaches it.
Is it the form of the film that makes it inevitably a little cold, a little distant, and a little difficult to crack? I have too many questions: Why does Valentin's wife despise him?, Why does he read Peppy's assistance as degrading to his pride instead of the adoration that it seems clearly to be?, and most importantly, Why won't Valentin swallow his pride and adapt with the times and talk in his films? Is there a problem with his voice?
This film is enjoyable, a curiosity, a relic of a time that I don't even have the appreciation for. I'm intrigued to see what the director does next, and I'm glad I saw this film. However, I don't know if it is deserving of the mountains of accolades that seem to be coming its way. Nominations come out this week, and I expect them for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Score, but this can't really be the best film of the year, can it?