A skilful blend of comedy and drama, The Artist relies on filmmaking techniques from a bygone era to tell a charmingly simple love story. Though its silent, black-and-white style hearkens back to the past, the film feels timeless thanks to the romance at its core.
The movie opens in 1927, near the end of the silent film era. Movie star George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) meets aspiring actress Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) at the premiere of his latest film.The chemistry between the two is immediate, and soon the fresh-faced Miller is the talk of the town. But as her stardom grows, Valentin’s career stalls. Rooted in the past, he sees no future for “talkies” and his dismissive attitude toward them sets him up for a potential disaster.
The central relationship in The Artist is vital to the film’s success, and both actors do a wonderful job conveying the budding romance. Director Michel Hazanavicius wisely chose two people with extraordinarily expressive faces as his leads.
As Valentin, Dujardin is charming and witty – his ear-to-ear grin almost never leaves his face. Bejo’s key features are her eyes. Whether wide with delight or blinking away tears, they’re impossible to ignore. Both actors earned well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work in The Artist (the film received 10 nominations in all).
It’s also interesting to note that although the two stars of The Artist probably won’t be familiar to North American viewers, the film’s supporting cast is filled with such notable names as John Goodman and James Cromwell. It’s fun to see these well-known performers working within the very different style of acting this film requires.
While the story of The Artist is generally a simple one, the movie is not without surprises. For example, while it’s obvious that Hazanavicius has a great love for silent film, he’s not married to the format. He bends his own self-imposed rules to find some clever uses for sound.
Despite having a mostly optimistic tone, The Artist does venture into darker territory at times. A superbly expressive score by Ludovic Bource helps in pulling off some of these tricky tonal shifts. Whether it’s with an upbeat piano-driven tune or a more dramatic violin-heavy number, Bource’s music always finds just the right note.
The film also employs songs from a handful of artists from the period, including Duke Ellington, Rose Murphy, and Red Nichols. It all adds to the effect, transporting you back to a different time.
At first glance, it might be tempting to dismiss The Artist as a novelty, or an exercise in technique, but to do so would be missing the point. Simply put, The Artist is a love letter to cinema, and a reminder that in an age where blockbusters dominate at the box office, movies don’t have to be big and flashy to make an impact.
(About QFA reviews: This is my second review for the Quinte Film Alternative. They’re an organization that shows independent/niche movies at the Empire Theatre here in Belleville, Ontario. If you’re in the area (or just passing through) it’s a great place for movie-lovers. But even if you aren’t around here, I’d encourage you to check out these films and support the independent theatre in your area. The Artist is (tentatively) scheduled to play at the Empire on March 28 at 2 pm and 7:30. Due to the film’s success during awards season, the screening has already been moved once, so please check the QFA’s website for up-to-date information. This review originally appeared here.)