Now whenever Pop-Pop says that “they don’t make films like they used to”, you can prove his ass wrong.
The story revolves around a fictional silent movie star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who finds himself on the downside of his career fading with the advent of talking movie. He falls in love with Peppy Miller, a young extra (Bérénice Bejo) who soon begins to rise to movie stardom.
Having a silent-film in the year 2011 be your front-runner for Best Picture seems very strange since the silent films are the total opposite of what we watch in films now. I can’t believe people actually went along with this idea/gimmick considering barely anybody would actually go out and give money to a film like this other than film nerds and old farts, but still, it’s a great idea if over-hyped a bit too much.
The film may take a bit of getting used to considering everything’s silent, everything’s in black-and-white, it stars two French people I myself and many others probably haven’t heard of until now, it’s not shot in wide-screen, and when they aren’t giving you little title-screens, half of the time you’re reading the lips of these characters. This may seem like a total pain in the ass right from the start but somehow writer/director Michel Hazanavicius makes it all work. Hazanavicius captures the whole feel and look of the silent film era with the whimsy, charm, and overall giddiness that took over these films and the happy spirit this film gives off is almost contagious enough to bring a smile onto your face, as it did to mine.
We don’t get to hear what any of these people are saying, and we barely even find out what it is too but the way we watch the body language of these characters and the type of emotions they can draw from us makes us really feel what was so special about these films in the first place. I think Hazanavicius’ other great addition to this film was that he is able to do with little subtelty but still able to make us feel emotions that we would feel even in a film that almost spells out everything for us.
But back to the way Hazanavicius captures this time period and makes this gimmick work perfectly. You get a real sense that you’re watching a flick that is not just an homage to the early days of cinema but also a film that could have easily been made as one of the last silent films in the 1930’s when “Talkies” started taking over completley. There are all of these different shots taken from other silent films of the era but they feel natural to the story and keep you in the mind-set of just how much the times were changing despite how depressing it may have been during the 30’s. I think the main reason why this film works so well is because of it’s sweeping score that is definitely one of the best I have heard in a long time because it actually feels like it belongs and isn’t just used for background music. It’s nice and easy on the ears but it also fits perfectly with the tone when the plot starts to shift into some very sad territory, even though that part of this flick may feel a bit like a parody.
However, the film does hit a big blockade in the middle of the flick where Valentin starts to lose his mind when he can’t change with the times. This would have been okay if the film just focused on it a tad bit but to be honest, the film really does lag when it starts to focus on this more and more without anything new or simply fresh for us to keep our minds busy. It was a bit of a bummer considering this film was really entertaining me but right at about this point I was caught checking out my watch a couple of times.
Another problem with this film is that I don’t necessarily think that it’s the one film that everybody is stating that it is. Going into this flick my expectations were incredibly high considering how much Oscar talk it’s been getting but other than the fact that it’s a cute little gimmick that is done well I must say, I still couldn’t help but think that there was just something that didn’t really do much for me considering I couldn’t feel anything for this story it’s characters but I was at least enjoying myself. I felt like I was watching one of those history lessons on The History Channel but instead of having little interviews from people of the time and then flipping back-and-forth between re-enactments, it was just one, long lesson with some really good-looking people. I think my expectations going into this film is what kind of brought it down for me but none the less, it was still a film that didn’t really change my way of living like everybody claimed it to be.
The real reason why this film is so incredibly charming though is because of its lead performance from Jean Dujardin as George Valentin. The guy hams it up just about every time he is up on screen but he feels like a perfect fit for a character who can’t seem to get out of a certain period of time but you still feel something for. The guy’s smile is infectious and it also helps that he looks exactly like a star from the silent film days. It’s crazy how the guy is the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar this year, even though his performance is all based on his physicality and he doesn’t even say anything throughout the whole flick (except for one part). Dujardin is a lot of fun to watch here and is one of the main reasons why people should check this flick out.
Bérénice Bejo is also a lot of fun as Peppy Miller. Bejo is gorgeous, charming, and just seems like a total sweetheart and the chemistry her and Dujardin have together feels real and electric even though we never hear them actually speak to each other. It’s a different type of love story that we usually see nowadays, and actually feels like one of those nice, sweet, and simple romances we would see way back in the day. There are also plenty of other peeps in this cast as well such as John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Missi Pyle among others.
Consensus: The Artist is not the one film of 2011 that will change your life, but it does feature a lot of fun with its perfect direction, great lead performances, and overall delighting and charming feel that will take you back in time to the golden days of silent films.