In many ways 2011 was all about the the past. Our top 25 films article featured Midnight in Paris (#25), Hugo (#4) and this little gem, The Artist (#9). All three traded heavily in nostalgia, sentiment and a certain penchant for French culture in the early part of the 20th century. Some saw this new fascination with old Hollywood as some sort “up yours” to the establishment who’ve been so quick to push the latest innovations in film-making such as 3D, CGI and motion capture. I just see it as a return to telling great stories, whatever the medium.
After tying with Lars Von Trier’s #randomnazirant for biggest story to come out of Cannes, it’s been a right old pain in the arse waiting seven months to see The Artist. It was universally hailed at the festival, astounding critics with the back-to-basics approach to story-telling. Since then Harvey Weinstein took a punt that this strange little picture could carry the 2012 Oscar hopes of The Weinstein Company.
French film-maker Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is mostly silent, black and white and appears in my beloved 4:3 aspect ratio. With the exception of a few key scenes, there’s nothing in here that couldn’t have shown up in smoky theatres 85 years ago.
The story deals with the end of the silent picture era and the dawn of the talkies. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, an actor whose star is on the wane just as Bérénice Bejo’s young dancer Peppy Miller sees hers on the rise.
Watching a silent picture is a very strange experience. Of course there’s plenty of music, but the renewed reliance on facial expression, actions and on-screen captions takes a few minutes to settle in to, but once you allow the story to take control any cynicism or concerns that you may have had as the traditional film credits kicked things off will disappear. And this isn’t just some soppy melodrama, with countless laugh out loud moments sprinkled throughout.
Storyline-wise there’s nothing that new or challenging here, the nods to other “times they are a-changing” pictures like Sunset Boulevard, Citizen Kane and Singin’ in the Rain all present and correct. But the 100 minute running time is all a delight, with only brief moments where the smile is wiped off your face.
It’s really hard to fault The Artist as a piece of work. The film far exceeds any realistic expectations you could possibly hold for a throwback black and white melodrama, with things a real delight from start to end.
As a final note, a quick recommendation. If you’re not won over by the time the final musical number rolls then I suggest asking for your money back and booking an appointment with a S.A.D. counsellor.
Michel Hazanavicius / Michel Hazanavicius / Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Malcolm McDowell & John Goodman / 100 min / Romance, Comedy, Drama / Release: 6 January 2012 (Irl/UK), 9 December 2011 (Canada), 25 November 2011 (USA)
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