I've often heard that a good movie should be able to tell you a story regardless of the dialog; you should be able to turn the sound off and still be able to tell what the story was about. I often subscribe to this belief (it's one of the reasons why I liked Drive) and you'd think that would mean I'd be a bigger fan of foreign or silent films. It's not that I'm not a fan, but they just aren't my favorite genres.
When I first saw trailer for The Artist, I was interested in seeing it, particularly because of the actors and people behind the movie, but I thought it might be a little too artsy for me. I'm glad to report that The Artist is a movie that proves that you can still tell a great and fulfilling story without dialog.
The Artist is a story about George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie star that has to deal with the fall of his stardom after the introduction of 'talkies'. At the same time, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who Valentin helped discover, becomes the first big star of talking films. As one star rises, the older star falls. That kind of thing.
What you see during the movie is that Valentin's fall kind of comes from his own stubbornness and this leads to the movie getting a little serious towards the end. However, the overall tone of the movie is very upbeat and funny.
While The Artist is clearly a tribute to the silent film era, I felt there were some very self-aware moments to the movie as it goes on. It's easy to think that making a black and white, silent film is a gimmick, but you'll find when watching The Artist that it's so much more than that. Even though it's black and white, I still felt it was colorful and there was great use of lighting. Normally, I don't notice something like lighting in a movie, unless it's too dark, but a black and white film really brings it to your attention.
With a silent film, it can only work if the performances are great and they are. Jean Dujardin, is perfect here! He has the most expressive face that's just perfect for comedy. You may recognize him from the OSS 117 films, and if haven't seen those, you must check them out. I think they are streaming on Netflix still. Bérénice Bejo is just gorgeous and also gives a fantastic performance! You just fall in love with her as the movie goes on. I have wonder why these two haven't been in more movies and hope this leads to more films for both of them.
Even though this is a French film, you're not just stuck watching a bunch of people most of you have never heard of. You also have John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, Penelope Ann Miller and Malcom McDowell (I think he's only in one scene though) rounding out the cast. John Goodman and James Cromwell, in particular, are great as well.
The Artist was written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, who also wrote and directed the OSS 117 films. He made a loving tribute to the silent film era and old film making. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that between this and the OSS 117 movies, he's my favorite foreign film director.
The score by Ludovic Dource helps sell the story. He's also a veteran of the OSS 117 films, so it's clear Hazanavicius has a good working relationship with many of these people.
I a heard a criticism that only people that don't know anything about silent films can enjoy this. I have to call bullshit on that assertion, because I see plenty of people that love silent films that also love The Artist. Even if that was the case, so what? Exactly how many people do you know that are silent movie aficionados? How many people are silent movie aficionados in the entire world these days? A handful compared to the general movie-going public?
The Artist is a movie that I felt lived up to the hype and is one of the year's best. You can enjoy it even if you aren't a fan of silent movies, but I understand that even with all the positive reviews, you still might not have any interest in a foreign, silent film. That's fine, this isn't for everyone. It's a great throwback to the silent film era. It's cute, has fantastic performances and a great score. I enjoyed the hell out of it and the more I think about it, the more I'm able to find things about it that I really loved. I'm probably going to see it again when it starts playing at The Vine in a few weeks.
5 Death Stars. I seriously can't think of a single thing wrong with the film.