Enjoy the silence
JOHN BRODEUR Special to the AmNews | 1/18/2012, 5:26 p.m.
Seems like every year around this time, there's one motion picture that gets designated the "little film that could" or something like it, a movie that comes seemingly out of nowhere to conjure massive critical acclaim-and usually a slew of industry awards-despite a small budget or lack of star power.
Fitting the bill for the current awards season is "The Artist," a picture that seems tailor-made for film buffs. It's French-made, it's romantic, it's shot in black and white and it's silent. Naturally, it's already won awards from critics' societies worldwide, including four Critics' Choice Awards; it was nominated for, and won, more Golden Globes than any other film this year; and it's a favorite to enjoy the same reception when the Academy Award nominations are announced next week. But is it that good?
In a word, yes. "The Artist" is a rarity in modern film, and not just because of the novelty of its construction. The film both pays tribute to and (mostly) faithfully recreates the allure of the era of classic Hollywood, when the theater was the centerpiece of the town square and films were meant for pure, unbridled escapism.
Opening in 1927, the film tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a star of the silent age whose livelihood is threatened by the introduction of "talkies"-and by his own pride. His outsize mugging is period-perfect-he truly would have made a great silent picture actor. (And now, some might say, he has.)
Berenice Bejo is effortlessly charming as Peppy Miller, the aspiring actress and love interest whose ascent to fame mirrors Valentin's descent into obscurity.
A few familiar faces anchor "The Artist" in the now, namely John Goodman as a blustering producer, James Cromwell as loyal servant Clifton and Penelope Ann Miller as George's increasingly estranged wife. And for the viewers who claim they hate silent movies but spend their days watching animal videos on the Internet, there's loyal sidekick Jack the dog (Uggie), a show-stealer if ever there was one.
Director-screenwriter Michel Hazanavicius hits all the right notes from the opening frames. His film is a perfect practice in style, from the cinematography (by Guillaume Schiffman) to the score (by Ludovic Bource, with a portion borrowed from Bernard Herrmann's classic love theme from "Vertigo") to the intertitles (used quite sparingly, giving extra heft to the work being done on camera). It's a classic melodrama, an unrepentant crowd-pleaser, and at times it's downright clever.
Purists might complain about the use of non-period-specific music or the odd modern visual effect, but that would be missing the point. "The Artist" is about forgetting time and place and simply letting yourself float away into the world of Hollywoodland. And in that regard, it's a runaway success.