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The Artist (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

The Artist is a silent film like few others — perhaps unlike any other. Simultaneously staying true to the genre and playing with it, director Michel Hazanavicius creatively employs silent film as one element of great storytelling and filmcraft — and manages to do so without falling into the trap of gimmickry. The story is simply better told the way Hazanavicius tells it — it takes us more strongly into what the film is exploring. The film’s Hollywood world of star worship, young stars rising, and power broker studio executives is perhaps not a world we live in, but we may well find ourselves in similar dangers to emotion and character.

In 1927, George Valentin is an actor at the height of his game — and savoring every moment of self-centered satisfaction it affords to him. Neither his wife nor his co-star get much credit or attention from George. Among his devoted fans is Peppy Miller, a hopeful and charming young actress. A chance encounter with George turns into Peppy’s big break. George loves it — but then he finds that, in comparison to his own fortunes, Peppy’s break is bigger than he realized. Running time: 100 min.

Exploring themes of pride, arrogance, self-worth, and caring for another, The Artist weaves Peppy’s story in and around George’s struggle for identity in a changing world. How does our view of ourselves shape how we treat others — and how we treat ourselves? How does it blind us to good things around us? Are we aware of what we build our identity on? Is it actually what we say it is? What grounds an identity that can survive a clash between old and new worlds? When does a new world require a new identity? The film doesn’t so much ask these questions, but rather it simply tells a story where such questions fill the shadows gathering around George’s life.

When he’s not playing with the silent film genre, which is most of the time, Hazanavicius executes on it nicely — with very little need to cut to dialog cards. The effect is furthered by the film’s 1.33:1 (i.e., 4:3) aspect ratio. When he does play with the genre, it is natural to the work of the film. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo wonderfully take up the challenge to act without words, not too mention their excellent dancing. Ludovic Bource’s score is delightful at carrying the film’s mood and pace.

It is very much worth the time to see The Artist, especially if you like seeing creative film work. On the other hand, if you don’t engage well with films that aren’t the standard Hollywood fare, maybe you should stay away — but hey, I say why not stretch your boundaries?

In the way of language, there is a crude gesture and a couple of light profanities. Scenes of peril include a house fire and a closeup of a gun almost being used to kill someone.

  • Director: Michel Hazanavicius
  • Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius
  • Leads: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Uggie (a Jack Russell terrier), John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
  • Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman
  • Music: Ludovic Bource

NOTE: spoilers are particularly rampant in reviews for The Artist. I’ve noted the worst offenders among the links below.

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NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
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