Movie Review: The Artist- An Inspired Embodiment of the Silent Era That is Divinely Executed in Tone, Story, and Style

Every so often, when you reluctantly head into cinemas to take a gander at the dismal choices Hollywood has mass produced for your not-so-viewing pleasure, you sometimes find a true gem that captures your senses and engrosses you in a new world. French director Michel Hazanavicius, known for his James Bond spoofs OSS:117,  has delivered a true achievement in cinematic storytelling that is at once classic and elegant in delivery and modern in its freshness and parody. It is called The Artist and it is simply an inspired experiment in bringing the silent film back from the dead in a way that is classier than Mel Brook’s Silent Movie but just as delightfully amusing. At the center of the film is the masterful French actor Jean Dujardin who looks like William Powell, is as charming as Errol Flynn, and dances like James Cagney. Without his true embodiment of the silent era, including every movement and facial expression, The Artist wouldn’t have been as stunning. But Dujardin isn’t alone in bringing this unique piece of film to life. There is a brilliant score that aids the crisp cinematography, which often mimics the silent era’s composition traits. But Hazanavicius and his cinematographer Guillame Schiffman take great lengths in bringing a renewed and splendid vision to telling their silent film. It’s filled with classic cinema homage (Sunset Blvd., Citizen Kane, and The Thin Man come to mind) and exudes the style of the silent era in every aspect from editing (montage, close ups, transposed images), acting (exaggerated movements, facial hints), and image (black & white, slanted composition, manipulative lighting). If Hazanavicius hadn’t proved himself a student of the cinema before he has given us a magical and truly charming love letter to classic cinema that shows that black & white/silent era films have just as much charisma, story, and emotion, if not more so, as any modern day film.

The Artist is appropriately set in the mid to late twenties and uses the transition from silent era films to talkies as its story backdrop. Dujardin plays George Valentin who is a charismatic and popular silent movie star who loves the limelight but loves the work he does even more. When he’s introduced to the future of movies with the introduction of sound his world is turned upside down, which is magnificently shown through an elegant and brilliantly executed dream sequence where everything has sound except his own voice. As his stardom begins to fade, an actress who he helped get her start, Peppy Miller (a tactful and charming Berenice Bejo), begins to flourish as a talkie star. Though she might feel an obligation to owe him a favor for the start of her career, it is really out of a growing love that she begins to try and help Valentin through his troubled times, including the loss of all his money in the Stock Market crash. The acting from all of the actors, whether they are French, English, or American, aid the film in its silence giving the proper personality needed to hook audiences with an entertaining and emotionally connected experience. Perhaps, though, it is the beautiful score that drives every scene from the romantic and heart wrenching to the humorous and fun. It’s a brilliant balancing act dealing with darker themes, such as pride comes before the fall or even the possibility of suicide in the face of losing all meaning, and the lighter touches, including a fantastic part for a Jack Russell Terrier named Uggie who steals the show half the time. Compliments can be given to every technical element in the film, especially with the graceful camera work and silent style oriented editing. The film becomes irresistible as it sweeps you off your feet with a foresight for delivery that is at once experimental and yet also unmistakably conventional, which basically shows us that film can manipulate the expectations of particular genres in a unique and welcoming way. So in a way, The Artist is truly a rare cinema experience and not simply because it is a silent film, but rather it is due to its practically perfect use of cinema’s tools to tell a story that is moving and memorable.

Doubters who will dismiss seeing the artist because it happens to be a silent movie will be losing the chance to witness something extraordinary. People forget that silent movies and early talkies during the Great Depression were essential escapes for audiences nationwide that were intended to remove all worries and enjoy a captivating experience. The Artist can essentially be described with that one word: captivating. Through all of the actors’ abilities and the film’s technical achievements, the film engrosses you in mind, body, and soul. Hazanavicius gives you a truly entertaining experience where there is plenty of humor to compliment his wonderful script that not only understands the film era he is capturing but also gives us characters that are sympathetic, dynamic, and worthy of our time and attention. The Artist, while using editing, cinematography, and particular acting to embody a particular time and style, transcends the limitations of simply being a silent film and becomes what we all head for the movies to see, which is a stunning and awe-inspiring cinema experience. The final scene has a momentary use of sound that will show you that sound doesn’t necessarily add to the clarity of the project and sometimes it can be just noise. The Artist isn’t even close to having any noise for it is truly an elegant and classy film that will have you leaving the movie with a smile.

Grade: A

Note: This movie will not be released until November 23rd.

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