The Artist is getting a lot of buzz right now, we’re in the midst of awards season and it appears to be front-runner in a number of awards categories; Best film, Actor, Music, Cinematography and Original Screenplay in particular.So far, most of the attention has been drawn to the fact that it is a black and white and silent film. Unfortunately amidst the excitement over such an unusual release people seem to be forgetting just how good it is without this “gimmick”.
Although I have enjoyed a number of classic films from the early decades of the 20th century I’ve never seen a silent film all the way through. There’s something to me which just seems unnatural about it. Despite this, The Artist works on so many levels that for most of the film you’re simply not aware that it is really a silent film at all. It just fits. Strangely (unlike the introduction of 3D to films) the lack of sound doesn’t distract from the story at all, it simply enhances it.
It is a simple story about a silent film actor George (Jean Dujardin) slowly being replaced by ‘talkies’ stars like Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) with whom he has a romantic entanglement. The story may be simple but it is charming,I enjoyed it in so many ways. The characters are wonderfully played by a spread of actors, some of whom you’d recognise and some who are entirely new faces; they seem to nail the idea of acting in a silent film particularly well, it would have been easy to follow even if there were no subtitle cards, their performances were so expressive they needn’t have bothered. The comedy is perfectly balanced with drama and the little dog who seems to be garnering a lot of attention is as adorable as everyone says, particularly during one scene in which he tugs on our hero’s trouser legs and simultaneously on your heartstrings. It’s just great film making.
Despite being enjoyable on a a very basic level, the film isn’t a throwaway ninety minutes, it seems to have much to offer on every level. For instance it deals with tricky subjects like finding oneself being replaced or falling from glory, something I imagine we will all have to deal with when growing up. In one scene George and Peppy cross on a staircase briefly, which is of course a metaphor for George’s stardom slowly receding as Peppy rises to the dizzying heights of fame. Most of all though, I loved that the film was very self-referential about being a silent film. A number of jokes are made and dramatic tension is built in ways which simply wouldn’t be possible in a film with sound.
Yet the suggestion that it is a triumph or a masterpiece is, I think, a little ridiculous. It’s mainly a lot of hype coming from conservative critics who love to champion anything nostalgic rather than new and fresh it doesn’t seem to ever be truely magnificent and although moments stick in my head now, I think ultimately it is actually a rather forgettable farce.
I don’t mean to say that the film isn’t good at all; it is really pleasant to see a film which has heart in it without being over-sentimental, which is funny without being crass, exciting without having huge explosions and robots hitting each other and dramatic on a human level. It’s best achievement though is showing that there is really no need for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of special effects and robots when all you need for an enjoyable – and commercially successful – film is a solid story, good performances and a cute dog.
Out Now in most good multiplexes and independent cinemas.Image Rights owned by; La Petite Reine, La Classe Américaine, uFilm, JD Prod France, 3 Cinéma, Jouror Productions & Studio 37