Year: 2011
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Writer: Michael Hazanavicius
Region of Origin: France
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Rating: PG-13
35mm, Black & White, 100 mins

Synopsis: Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break. (Source)

Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is the perfect endcap on a year when cinema, especially Hollywood, attempted to get back to more honest and genuine fare by using liberal doses of nostalgia. While it hasn’t always completely worked (Super 8), in such movies as Captain America, Reel Steel and Rise Of The Apes, the nostalgia factor proved a pleasant surprise, especially in its most potent, sincere and personal effort in Hugo (my favorite of the year thus far). Just like Hugo, The Artist is a love letter to silent film (this time while also being one), and while it isn’t anywhere near as heavy or sprawling in scope as Scorsese’s film, it’s still a great musing on how quickly things, or even people for that matter, can be discarded once the seasons change. It’s also a beautiful reminder to never forget how one thing can rise from the ashes of another.

The central plot revolves around silent film megastar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in the late 1920s, a time right before talking films (talkies) are about to hit it big. He’s clearly in love with the spotlight and is a bit of an egomaniac, though he’s ultimately harmless, taking it all in good fun and enjoying his position of fame and influence. Unexpectedly, a meeting with uber fan/aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) occurs and the two immediately hit it off, although the path for both will ultimately take them in two very different directions before crossing again. Despite the absence of any audible dialogue, the pair’s chemistry sizzles as they mime their way through the entire range of human emotion with comedic grace and dramatic weight. Both easily deliver two of the best performances of the year, and I have to tip my hat to Bejo, as her naive, innocent and well-meaning Peppy is intoxicating. I don’t remember the last time I was so captivated by a performance — there’s a look in her eyes that’s pure and unmistakably genuine. Add to this one of the best dog performances (yes, the canine) you’ll ever witness and an amply rounded cast featuring John Goodman and James Cromwell and it’s impossible to resist the movie’s charms. I can’t stress enough how impressively well each actor nailed the wholly unique skill set required to pull off this type of movie.

While the story is thematically a bit generic, following a standard rise-and-fall arc, it in no way hampers the many great things the movie has going for it, namely its authentic way of capturing its adoration and love for the bygone era it depicts. By its nature, it does a great job of illustrating a simpler time, probing the all too relevant exceedingly changing times that have only accelerated since then. What I also love about it is its way of depicting movie stars as still having a sense of mysticism to them. People look up to them in a glamorous fashion and don’t worry about seeing a reality TV show about their absurd lifestyles or disappointing characteristics. Of course, that’s all secondary to what the movie does best, which is depict a man trying to find his way in a society that has moved on to the next big thing. Through the juxtaposition of the two lead characters’ arcs we’re given a nice reminder that just because something ends, that doesn’t mean it was meaningless.

The Artist is the kind of movie that prove’s a bit difficult to single out one great thing, and frankly almost everything about it is on the same high level. Ludovic Bource’s tour-de-force soundtrack is jaw-dropping, and the stark, gorgeously realized black and white cinematography and production design by Guillaume Schiffman and Laurence Bennett, respectively, are worth the price of admission alone. The performances are infectious, and there are even a few dance numbers thrown in for good measure. While it isn’t perfect, it’s still one of the absolute must-sees of the year. Amidst some of the more empty and falsely nostalgia-laden movies to come out this year, The Artist has real heart and an artistry that’s hard to beat.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5

SG