American audiences who would pass on Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist because a) it’s a silent movie and b) it’s in black and white, will be missing one of the best films in decades. Just like some of its unforgettable elders in the silent-film era, The Artist is funny, touching without being sentimental, with story line and feelings perfectly conveyed without words.
If you ever wondered how the great stars of day before yesterday managed to show so much while saying nothing, you will do so again, in 2011, upon viewing this one-of-a-kind film. So, no dialogue but intertitles and also a Jacques Tati-esque sound track of objects falling, ringing, breaking, of sprinklers on lawns, fire engines, snatches of a passing conversation.
The Artist is George Valentin, a big name in silent flicks, who cannot transition to sound. On the other hand, his protégé, Peppy Miller, a bubbly young woman, is game for the challenge and crowds find her irresistible. So, classic Hollywood tale, while Peppy rises, Valentin sinks both in ratings and in alcoholism until he is all but gone from public view and memory, alienating even his closest friends.
Finally, all he has left in the hovel where he now lives, penniless, abandoned by his wife and by his fickle fans, are his films, in cans, and his smart sidekick, a lovable Jack Russell terrier. Ensuing events you’ll discover for yourself, dabbing at your eyes or laughing heartily, often at the same time.
What adds to the charm of this gem (an overrated word in film reviews but more than deserved here) is that it’s devoid of today’s irony, tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink allusions, as in aren’t I clever to reproduce so perfectly an entertainment of yesteryear. Michel Hazanavicius achieves his tour de force with the lightest hand and it’s this straightforward innocence that makes it most endearing.
This film, which won a no-contest best actor award for Jean Dujardin as George Valentin at this past Cannes Festival, also stars the director’s lovely and lively wife Bérénice Bejo and John Gooodman, perfect as the cigar-chomping, much put-upon Hollywood producer.
The Artist is a must-see. You may be sitting in a Cineplex near you when you watch it but the time travel is guaranteed–and so is the spell this delicious film will cast.