The Artist, |
directed by Michel Hazanavicius
(Warner Bros., 2012)
Watching a silent, black-and-white film about silent, black-and-white films can be a trouble-strewn path. The film-within-a-film is an idea that has been done so often, as well as the "let's do a quick flashback to the days of silent era filmmaking!" in so many types of media, that I'd have a seizure listing all the places I've seen this bit done. The context is usually satirical, which raises the bar even higher for a movie about moviemaking that actually wants to be taken seriously. Happily, it was worth the effort. By dedicating itself wholeheartedly to the outcome, The Artist manages the difficult trick of being interesting, nostalgic, finely tuned and insightful while also being refreshing, upbeat and completely respectful of a past that has too much to offer to ever be ignored.
French actor Jean Du Jardin is George Valentin, a silent film star who is running headfirst into the 20th century. The collision is a painful one: though he is a near-god in the silent era, the new technology that combines sound with film is about to change his entire world. At that exact moment, he virtually runs into a young girl, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, aka Mrs. Hazanavicius), who wants nothing more than to be a star. Valentin gives her a break, so her star goes up as his is going down. She wants to help, but of course his pride gets in the way.
The drama is kept to a few heavy scenes, while most of the movie is light and entertaining. The story is too derivative for it to be a truly original movie, but it's a classic example of what a movie is supposed to do: create an immersive world that takes you out of the one you're in. It's a love letter to a bygone era and as such it is so touchingly earnest it's hard not to get swept away by French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius's enthusiasm. After all, he made a movie with largely unknown stars, centered on a time period that only a great-grandparent could recall fondly. Therein lays the film's greatest resource: its palpable charm, which carries it on past the dragging bit in the middle, where the playfulness and whimsicality is stretched a bit thin. It does get back on track, an amazing feat in a movie that really has no surprises to offer.
It's the director's love of films that is the movie's most winning asset, and that speeds the viewer past the head-turning number of references, hat tips, nods, and outright trope plundering that takes place. There's even the occasional bit of inventiveness. The Artist may not be the year's or the century's greatest film, but it's a labor of love from one of film's biggest fans in a way that transcends its limitations, and that's why it's a great time.
12 May 2012
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