Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and John Goodman
French director Michel Hazanavicius is best known for his James Bond spoofs starring our leading man, Jean Dujardin. The OSS films have seen the two form a great partnership, which continues on The Artist and beyond. Dujardin plays George Valentin, a leading silent film star at the end on the Roaring Twenties. Bérénice Bejo plays Peppy Miller, a young dancer looking for her big break. After a chance meeting, and a strong mutual attraction, we watch their relationship unfold as the late 20’s sees the end of the silent film era and the emergence of talkies. George clashes with studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) and watches his career nosedive as he refuses to accept that Silents are dead, whilst Peppy sees her star rise as one of a new breed of Hollywood starlets.
At a time where cinema is overflowing with loud, action-packed, CGI smothered movies, producing a silent film set in the Golden Age of Hollywood is a daunting task, but one that ultimately reaps rich rewards. Loosely based around John Gilbert, known as “the great lover”, and a rival to Rudolph Valentino in the silent era, George’s descent loosely mirrors Gilbert’s struggle to adapt to talkies and struggles with alcohol addiction. Miller takes on Garbo’s role as she tries to save George from self-destruction. The story may diverge to a large degree but there are several little nods along the way.
I don’t think many directors could have pulled this off with such aplomb. The Artist is lovingly detailed, overflowing with deft touches and subtle masterstrokes. Dujardin is perfect for the role of Valentin, giving the performance of his career, which has justifiably already received much plaudits and heralded many award nominations. Bejo is captivating and her performance it’s an absolute delight. She embodies the new breed of movie stars who made their name during the period. The supporting cast is superb, and one of the great benefits of silent film is that it doesn’t matter what language you speak.
In short, The Artists is a magnificent work of cinema, which is beautifully acted, masterfully directed and an entirely refreshing experience. It will leave you smiling long after the credits role. Hopefully this will herald a resurgence of black and white film-making. There is much cinematic craft which has been lost with the advent of colour, and hopefully we will see more directors utilising these techniques again.
And I’ve not even mentioned the dog, a star in his own right. I wanted to take him home with me.