Often when a film is much lauded in the press and weighed down with awards it can be a bit of a let down when you finally get around to seeing it, but thankfully The Artist turned out to be just as lovely as I’d been led to believe.
The film begins in 1927, with silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) attending the premiere of his latest film where he receives a rapturous response from the audience. Outside the theatre he bumps into a young lady named Peppy (Berenice Bejo) who he poses with for photos. Peppy winds up on the cover of various magazines curious about who this mysterious girl. Peppy auditions as a dancer at the studios where George works and he puts her in his next film, they have great chemistry and George is clearly besotted with her. Peppy for her part seems just as charmed by him.
George draws a fake beauty spot on Peppy, so that she has something to set her apart from other actresses and she begins to rise in the business, slowly moving up the cast lists in her films.
The head of George’s studio, Zimmer (John Goodman) wants to move into sound pictures but George objects seeing them as a fad. Fired from the studio he self finances his own silent movie, but with the stock market crash of 1929 he needs a big hit, but the film underperforms as audiences flock to see Peppy in her first, speaking starring role.
As Peppy’s star rises, George’s descends and he winds up down and out, his marriage in ruined and forced to sell all his possessions to get by. All he has left are two loyal friends, his valet Clifton (James Cromwell) and his dog (Uggie).
Despite the gap between their prospects there is still a bond between the characters. Can George overcome his pride and insecurities and recover, and will he and Peppy ever get together?
I can’t express how delightful this film is, its a wonderful piece of work that seems like a love letter to Hollywood’s glory days and cinema itself. When it came out a lot was made of the fact its a largely silent movie, but its far more than just a gimmick.
Its a wonderful device that given the film’s subject matter is extremely appropriate. The director, Michel Hazanvicius shows great skill, using the silence not only for a series of clever, charming sight gags but also crafting a sweet, endearing movie that really engages on an emotional level.
Without dialogue its all done through visual storytelling which highlights George’s decline and Peppy’s new privileged lifestyle, especially in a simple trick of having them meet on a stairway at one point, with Peppy ascending and George descending. Its a basic trick but one that works really well.
There’s a fantastic dream sequence midway through which does a great job of highlighting George’s fears about the changing nature of movies and the fact he fears he will be lost in the shuffle. The dream showing him without voice in a world of exaggerated sound effects, which, coming halfway through a silent film has a really jarring, odd quality which merely highlights the surreal dream state George is in.
And there are several wonderful sequences which ensure you understand entirely what the characters are experiencing and lock you into the plot.
Hazanvicius is aided by a great cast, particularly his leading man Dujardin who has a brilliantly expressive face and manner which makes him seem ideally suited to silent movies, I found myself wondering if he himself can be as good in talkies as he is in this flick.
He captures this swaggering, outer show of confidence that George has when he’s on top in a way that never makes the character unsympathetic and does an outstanding job of creating real empathy in the audience as his life starts to unravel. George is shown to be a flawed individual, proud and insecure, but even at his lowest Dujardin makes him engaging and likable, his faults feel realistic we root for him to get past them.
Equally sensational is Bejo, who has this really sweet lovable charm that she brings to Peppy, which ensures the character has this bewitching quality which ensures that the audience fall for her just as quickly as George does and we can understand why within the film she becomes a massive star, as I’d love to see more of her on screen.
For a significant portion of the film the two characters are kept distant from each other as their personal fortunes drag them in separate directions, but when they’re on screen together they light it up and create this wonderful chemistry between the two of them.
The attraction between them feels fantastically real and there’s a sequence where they film their first scene together which is just captivating. George is shown to be clearly flustered by her presence to the extent it throws him off his game and you can feel the intense connection and longing between them as they linger in the scene as though neither of them wants to break away and risk spoiling it.
There’s also a brilliantly sweet scene where Peppy goes to George’s dressing room and looks through his things, as though trying to feel that connection again, as they can’t really act on it. She slips her arm into one of his jacket sleeves and holds herself in a scene which is odd yet charming, making her come across as the most delightful stalker of all time.
The supporting roles are done well, particularly Cromwell in an understated, touching performance as George’s valet, a role which he brings great dignity to.
Given the subject of the film it kind of reminded me of Singin’ In The Rain, which is one of my all time favourite movies. Its not quite up there with that flick but it still has that sense of capturing a time when a massive technological leap forward was consigning big stars to the scrapheap over night, but it still has the same feeling of being made by people who really love movies and movie history, and shares the same lovely, feel good optimism. Both films are delightful, and if you’ve never seen Singin’ In The Rain I wholeheartedly recommend you remedy that situation as it is an utter classic.
All in all, just a lovely film.
Verdict: A wonderfully made, charming and gorgeous film that is an utter delight. Features two great central performances and is one of the most satisfying movies I’ve seen in a while. A complete gem. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.