IRONICALLY at a time when technological advances are changing the face of cinema, several films have recently taken a retrospective look at the film industry. Martin Scorsese’s film, Hugo and Simon Curtis’, My Week with Marilyn have all reminisced on cinemas history. French director, Michel Hazanavicious’ largely silent, French movie, The Artist, certificate PG, is a wonderful and uplifting homage, to the silent movie era of early Hollywood.
Set between 1927 and 1931, the black and white film follows the story of silent movie star George Valentin, a man at the top of his game, caught off guard by the arrival of the ‘talkies’. Despite being married, he has an instant attraction to Peppy Miller, a beautiful young dancer, destined for stardom. Valentin can only watch and make way for Miller, as she becomes the new face of talking pictures, while his career goes on a downward spiral.
Jean Dujardin stars as the film’s main protagonist, George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo plays Peppy Miller. Despite Its largely French cast, some familiar faces feature in key supporting roles, including John Goodman as film producer, Al Zimmer and James Cromwell as Clifton, George’s faithful assistant. Malcolm McDowell also makes a brief cameo appearance.
The film’s two leads are fantastic throughout the feature, they both have such wonderful physicality and are so facially expressive, that they effectively convey their feelings without the need for dialogue. They can make viewers laugh and smile with the raise of an eyebrow, or wink of an eye. The two have great onscreen chemistry and make an effective double act.
It would seem that the director has plucked Jean Dujardin from the actual silent movie era. He looks perfectly natural in his tuxedo, his performance is on a calibre with some of the acting greats from that generation. His character is remarkably similar to silent movie star, Douglas Fairbanks, even down to actor’s trademark pencil-thin moustache.
Bérénice Bejo, who is married to the director, has such beautiful and captivating eyes. She described her character Peppy Miller as being her husband’s fantasy, she said: “she was the fantasy of me that he has in his head.”
Despite these accolades, the limelight is stolen by George’s canine co-star, his Jack Russell steals the show, with his tricks and performance. In particular a memorable scene, when dog and master perform at the breakfast table for George’s wife.
Hazanavicious’ film is as much a love story between the film’s central characters as it is a throwback to the silent movies of the early 20th century. From its black and white picture, beautiful accompanying score and even the director’s decision to shoot the film in the exact same frame ratio. The feature drips with nostalgia and authenticity, without ever feeling gimmicky.
His directorial style is simple, yet effective. A dream sequence early on is a standout scene. George becomes stuck in a world full of sound, yet he is unable to speak. The scene foreshadows the film’s events but also takes the viewer completely by surprise.
The presentation and performances are fantastic throughout the feature, the French director’s open love letter to a forgotten age of cinema, aims to recapture and reflect upon the spirit of the era. It is a true crowd pleaser, its dance sequence finale will leave many with a smile on their face.
Review by William McClean