Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Artist

By Sati. Sunday, February 12, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
99/100 (100 min, 2011)
Plot: Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writer: Michel Hazanavicius (scenario and dialogue)
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman

The Golden Silence

If you told me few weeks ago that I will see a movie from 2011 that will be my number 1 of the year and it's not going to be "Shame" I would not believe it. The more plausible thing to happen would be for Charlie Sheen to admit that he has a problem or for David Lynch to stop meditating and announce he is making season 3 of "Twin Peaks". And yet it happened.

I forgot about a certain enchanting kind of films. My favorite movies usually deal with dark and tragic things, they tell stories of insanity, psychosis, suffering and solitude. They are filled with screaming, crying, despair and happy endings occur there very rarely. But sometimes a movie comes along that doesn't need cracks suddenly appearing on the walls and feathers being pulled out of heroine's arms. The kind of movie that instead of messing with your head, shoots straight to your heart. No matter how cheesy I'm always moved by "Big Fish". "Amelie" always makes me feel happy. And now there is "The Artist".
Michel Hazanavicius's movie is the first silent movie released in theatres since 1976. In the time where Transformers take over the world, 3D requires us to pay more and more for the tickets and the scripts and actual talents are replaced with explosions and super skinny "actresses" here comes that film that not only doesn't have many words in it - even the black cards with typical silent movie dialogues appear rarely - but also takes us back to the time where silent movies had their golden age. And then to the fall of them and subsequently their stars by introducing sound to the movies.

Hazanavicius's film biggest strength it's not even how unique it is - making a silent movie in this day and age was very risky - even if they succeed, who would watch it? - but its story and the characters. The story is lovely and quite universal - success, the loss of it, friendship, love, dreams - and the characters are so charming you will fall in love with them from the very first moments.
The hero of the movie is George Valentin, huge star of the silent movies, adored, revered and loved by his fans. When he is walking out of the theatre a girl from the crowd loses her balance and falls on him. He just starts smiling and laughing off the incident, takes her hand and poses for pictures with her. That girl is Peppy Miller, who soon will become a huge star of new kind of movies - with actors talking in them. George can't understand it, he thinks it's foolish for actors to be heard in their movies. But mostly he understands how much acting in silent movies and new kind of films differs and he feels he can't do it.

George's fear is presented in - I will type this words with no hesitation - best dream sequence portraying character's angst since Bergman's Wild Strawberries. In this dream everything makes a sound and George panics. A single feather falls on the ground making overwhelming noise. And soon George falls from the grace, unable to find his own place in the new world of the cinema. Meanwhile Peppy is becoming more and more famous with each day. When she was still a beginner George gave her the advice - to have something others don't. Although she is grateful to him and her love for him blossoms with each moment, ironically her career comes from his fame's demise.
The love story in "The Artist" is charming enough to challenge the one of Nino and Amelie - there is a meet cute where both of them connect instantly, there is whole series of delightful moments - most famous being Peppy placing one of her arms in George's jacket and pretending he is embracing her. But the most amazing moment comes when Peppy visits George in hospital and takes a look at the reels he was trying to rescue desperately from the fire. What's on those reels is love. What's in her eyes and his smile - it's love. And contrary to what many poets and writers think - "The Artist" proves that love doesn't need words.

Jean Dujardin's performance in the movie is one of the best I've seen in a very long time - the voice is such an important instrument the actor uses in his craft and here Dujardin (whose actual voice is very lovely) must deal without it. And he does so splendidly. He has charming smile and this old school kind of magnetism, that Cary Grant had and one scene in the movie - where female fans are in hysterics when they see him - reminded me of all the stories about women going crazy for Rudolph Valentino. Dujardin does great with all the comedy bits - having starred in many comedies to date - and he is truly heartbreaking in dramatic moments. It is amazing how his eyes - when he sees Peppy for the first time or when he takes a bow on stage for his fans -  shine so bright, yet as he holds loaded gun in his hand and watches his beloved dog Uggie jumping and barking to prevent his owner from shooting himself - they are completely empty. Valentin is full of himself and stubborn but you adore him - even when the script requires Dujardin to be harsh, he puts so much smoldering elegance into it, you can't help but love his character.
Dujardin's partner in the movie is lovely Berenice Bejo, who as Peppy embodies liveliness, kindness and youth. She is so energetic, brave and sweet that her charm and talent is all she needs to become new sweetheart of the audiences. Bejo is at her best when she shows how much Peppy is worried about George - where she rushes in the car in order to save him or when she sits next to him on the bed, with tears in her eyes. I haven't seen an actress cry so beautifully and naturally on screen in a very long time - Peppy publicly says that silent films are in the past, "out with the old, in with the new". But she watches all Valentin's films with tears in her eyes, in theatres that are becoming more and more empty, as her films are taking away the audience from the man she loves.

Michel Hazanavicius previously made two parodies of James Bond movies - "OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d'espions" and "OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus" - both starring Jean Dujardin in main role and former starring Berenice Bejo.There is one word to describe both of those movies - whimsical. From the first moments of the first of those you can clearly see that this and "The Artist" are made by the same director, who clearly loves old films and wants to pay homage to them. Him and Dujardin make a great duo and it's really not surprising Dujardin is lead in "The Artist". Him and Bejo have lovely chemistry but in "The Artist" it's so much more - sparks are flying out between them in every scene they share.
But I'm quite astonished - OSS 117 are quite hit-and-miss and although I laughed out loud at times, many times it was just an average, silly parody. But "The Artist" is an actual masterpiece - it has all the right things, splendid timing, wonderful execution. It's as if between those movies Hazanavicius turned from beginner to an experienced maestro who knows how to direct all the elements and make them into beautiful piece of art.

I must mention Uggie, the dog. I love when there is an animal in the movie and it has something to do, other than looking cute. The role of Jack, the dog in the movie is played by three different Jack Russells but mostly by Uggie. That adorable dog's role is crucial in the film - George is convinced nobody wants to hear his voice. He spends his life in silence, his success in silence, just like his beloved dog. There is a scene in the movie where George's fan pets Uggie and George says "If only he could speak!". That is perhaps the most important line in the movie - George refuses to speak because he thinks words are unnecessary to express his emotions. Uggie is his perfect companion - he doesn't nag and yell like George's bitter and jealous wife, he is always there for him and he saves his life on various occasions in the movie. Uggie is one of many elements in the movie that causes people to love "The Artist" - when the movie won Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical and Hazavenicus was giving his speech, Dujardin made Uggie do his signature trick from the movie - walking on two paws and then pretending to be dead. Uggie totally stole the focus right there.
The movie was shot in the 1.33:1 just as in silent-film days, since Hazanvicius considered it 'perfect for actors' because it gives them 'a presence, a power, a strength. They occupy all the space of the screen.' The cinematography is truly gorgeous and makes the movie feel magical - the enchanting shot of George and Peppy slow dancing, George watching his movies in the dark and all the moments where he is in front of the curtain, although being so small in comparison, he completely captures the crowd - won't fade from my memory for a long time.

"The Artist" has no words, but it doesn't mean it has no sound - Ludovic Bource's original score fills the movie with beautiful themes and the music brilliantly accompanies the picture. A year ago we all thought that this year Desplat is winning his Oscar at last. Well he probably won't, nor he shouldn't. Not only is Bource's score more consistent than everything Desplat did this year, the main theme is so catchy you will hear it in your head for days.
At one point of the movie the black card with the word "BANG!" appears on the screen. I do not know anyone who watched the movie and didn't gasp in terror in this moment. That gasp contained more emotions than the audience expressed on movies that had hundreds of millions of dollars more spent on them, with script filled with mostly unnecessary dialogues and big stars who are mostly just interested in cashing their pay checks. "The Artist" was made because of love and with love - for the cinema. But it's not just for the people who love films - it's a movie for anyone who looks for a film that will move, entertain and delight its viewers. "The Artist" is the film you fall in love with.

8 comments:

  1. Terrific and long review! You nailed pretty much everything. I love this film so much.

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  2. Great review. It's easy to tell how much you liked this film. It's my favorite film from 2011 as well.

    Amelie is a great film to mention with The Artist. In addition to being great, it features many scenes that don't have dialogue in them. We get what people are feeling from their faces, much like we do in The Artist. Even the quick use of special effects to make Amelie collapse into a puddle perfectly illustrates exactly how she is feeling inside. And Audrey Tautou just has a fantastically expressive face.

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    1. Exactly, also there scenes where Amelie cries are very similiar to the scenes Peppy cries here, she looks so profoundly sad and moved and all of that is because of love.

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  3. Really glad that you liked this one. The dream scene was also one of my favorites, and you're right that there was an audible gasp in my theater when the BANG! appeared. Personally I was a little bit annoyed at how excited the the audience got over the dog, but that's mostly just because I'm not really a dog person. But even I can see the important role he played and give credit to the actors and director too for taking a chance on him. Great review!

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    1. Thank you! I think it's mostly due to the fact that the dog was such a big part of the movie and they made him into proper character and pretty much the hero's only friend when he hit rock bottom. I admire Uggie, I heard he worked for long hours and training him to do all of those things must have been exhausting. I'm glad he is finally getting the rest he deserves :)

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  4. WoW. That's the best review of The Artist I have read. I second every word you wrote. It feels good to read your own thoughts so beautifully written :)

    Congrats.

    Also, The Artist has made my life better. :D

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    1. Thank you so much, I'm glad you enjoyed it and that you loved the movie!

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