Shortly after I saw the black-and-white, mostly silent film The Artist at the Spectrum in Albany the weekend before last, someone asked me what I thought of it. “It’s very clever,” I said. “But is it good?” “It’s the best silent film I’ve seen this century.”
None of this is to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the film; more to the point, I would see it again. It’s fun, it’s well-acted, and particularly so, precisely because it IS a silent film, though with music, and the actors have to convey so much sans dialogue. It’s just that there are not that many contemporary films to which I can compare them. Which, in and of itself, makes the fact that it even got made a brave and remarkable feat.
The Artist is the story of silent movie star George Valentin (French actor Jean Dujardin) in Hollywood circa 1927. Will the advent of the talkies mean the end of his career, in favor of younger talent, such as the pretty extra Peppy Miller (Argentinian-French actress Bérénice Bejo)? As their fortunes change, their fates, and the fate of Valentin’s dog (Uggie), remain intertwined.
Dujardin, in particular, has to convey a whole range of emotions. Bejo was also wonderful; some suggested that she was too “modern” for the specific period, which may be true, but I think the French writer-director, Michel Hazanavicius (Bejo’s husband) was trying to convey the difference between the old and the new. He even picked the song ‘Pennies from Heaven’, which appears in the film in 1929 but, as the credits clearly show, dates from 1936; this matters not a bit. The Golden Globes nominations for Bejo and two for Hazanavicius and the win for Dujardin were totally warranted. Kudos also to actors John Goodman, who played the movie mogul Al Zimmer; and James Cromwell, who was Valentin’s loyal assistant, Clifton.
It occurred to me that the last three films I’ve seen were all about the cinema: Hugo, My Week with Marilyn and now The Artist. And the book I read was about film critic Roger Ebert. Next time, a NON-movie movie.