Plot – An egomaniacal film star develops a relationship with a young dancer against the backdrop of Hollywood’s silent era – The Artist.
Director – Michel Hazanavicius
Released – 2011
The emergence of the ‘talkies’ was probably the biggest innovation in cinema history, up there with colour film. Suddenly the studios needed to adapt or risk being left behind, which unfortunately meant ending the careers of some of their biggest stars who no longer have the right voice to make way for the next generation of stars, with very few of the big names making the cut. Now this turbulent time in Hollywood history has been depicted on screen a couple of times before, most notably Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Stanley Donen Singin’ in the Rain (1952), but what The Artist has going for it is a clear love of silent cinema, a succinct plot and wonderful performances throughout.
Too often silent movies and silent movie stars have been the butt of jokes and made a mockery of by modern production, poking fun at the over-the-top acting, unrealistic/shoddy sets and an abundance of romantic storylines. But the era was much more than that, after all, it covered over 40 years of filmmaking, with the works of Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton still some of the greatest pieces of comedy ever made.
Luckily, however, the makers of The Artist knew this, especially director Michel Hazanavicius, whose love of the era shines through, even shooting the film in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, allowing the screen to be dominated by the actors, while also filling the film with plenty of easter eggs for fans of the silent film, including the full recreation of a scene from his The Mark of Zorro (1920), with Valentin taking the place of Douglas Fairbanks.
This leads me into the casting, which quite frankly was a stroke of genius. Dujardin’s face is perfect for the role, it’s almost as if he was made for silent cinema. Communicating almost entirely through facial expressions, it was a delight to see him generating emotions through something as simple as an eyebrow movement or the twitch of his moustache.
It’s no wonder he received the Academy Award for his performance here. While not quite as impressive as Dujardin, Bejo still charms her way through the film and is perfectly believable as the up-and-coming star in love with Valentin. The two share a real chemistry and together produce some tender and beautiful exchanges, all without the use of sound.
While I feel it’s maybe too early to call The Artist a masterpiece, it is nonetheless a wonderful love letter to an era of filmmaking often forgotten about by the masses, filled with delicate performances, beautiful cinematography and best of all, a heroic dog.