Michel Hazanavicius‘ much-anticipated The Artist, which just finished showing in the Grand Lumiere, is a winning “success,” and at the same time a half-and-halfer — a film that delivers beautifully but also leaves you wanting in certain ways. It’s a black-and-white silent drama with dashes of humor (i.e., I wouldn’t call it a dramedy) that’s first and foremost a tribute to the lore and sheen of 1920s Hollywood. And that much is fine.
If you’re any kind of film buff it’ll work for you and then some, but I’m not so sure about the under-45 set. Monochrome plus no dialogue are obviously stoppers for the majority of filmgoers out there. Let’s face it — The Artist would have seemed like a quaint exercise if it had been made 35 or 40 years ago by Peter Bogdanovich.
My basic impression is that The Artist is a very well-done curio — an experiment in reviving a bygone era and mood by way of silent-film expression. Is it a full-bodied motion picture with its own voice and voltage — a film that stands on its own? Not quite. But it’s a highly diverting, sometimes stirring thing to sit through, and the overall HE verdict is a thumbs-up.
The Artist has been very carefully assembled, but chops-wise it’s not strictly a revisiting of silent-film era language. It visually plays like a kind of ersatz silent film — technically correct in some respects but with a 2011 sensibility in other ways. It has a jaunty, sometimes jokey tone in the beginning, and then it gradually shifts into drama and then melodrama. But it tries hard and does enough things right that the overall residue is one of satisfaction and “a job well done.”
Shot in Los Angeles, the story of this French-financed production recalls the plots of Singin’ In The Rain and A Star Is Born with a little Sunset Boulevard thrown in.
It takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1931 and focuses on George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) a Douglas Fairbanks-y silent film star who stubbornly refuses to adapt to the advent of motion-picture sound, and Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejoa), a Janet Gaynor-like or young Joan Crawford-y actress whose career takes off with sound.
Hazanavicius uses an entire passage of Bernard Herrmann‘s Vertigo score in the final act, when Valentin is at his lowest ebb.
It’s interesting that Dujardin strongly resembles Fredric March, star of King Vidor‘s A Star Is Born (1937). It’s doubly interesting that Dujardin apparenty gained weight for the role, as his appearance today (i.e., in the press conference inside the Palais) is definitely slimmer.
John Goodman plays a studio chief, James Cromwell plays Valentin’s chauffeur, and Penelope Ann Miller plays Valentin’s unsatisfied wife.
From the Wiki page: “Director Michel Hazanavicius had been fantasizing about making a silent film for many years, both because many filmmakers he admires emerged in the silent era, and because of the image-driven nature of the technique.
“According to Hazanavicius his wish to make a silent film was at first not taken seriously, but after the financial success of his spy-film pastiches OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio, producers started to express interest.
“The forming of the film’s narrative started with Hazanavicius’ desire to work again with actors Jean Dujardin and Bereenice Bejo, who had starred in the OSS 177 films. Hazanavicius choose the form of the melodrama, partially because he though many of the films from the silent era which have aged best are melodramas.
“Filming took place during seven weeks on location in Hollywood. Throughout the shoot Hazanavicius played music from classic Hollywood films while the actors performed.”