Michel Hazanavicius’ visionary film The Artist is unlike anything modern audiences have ever seen before. It is exceptional on many levels, but unfortunately will not attract the mass attention it deserves. Hazanavicius presents the film in black and white, displacing it from reality and creating its own absorbing characters and world. The film also has next to no dialogue, being for the most part, a silent film with nothing but a musical accompaniment. This works brilliantly, and a unique story with strong performances lift this film to make it one of the most entertaining motion pictures in years.
Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin, a silent film star living large in 1927 Hollywood. He lives in a large house with a painting of himself in the foyer, reporters can’t get enough of him, and many women eagerly chase him around. However, everything changes for George when the studio head (John Goodman) informs him about sound being recorded to accompany ‘talkies’. George soon falls from grace as audiences don’t want to see silent films anymore. He ends up moving into a small apartment and pawing off his tuxedos and possessions to get over the debt of funding his own failed attempt at writing, directing, and starring in a movie.
When George was a big star, he was photographed kissing a stranger after a premiere on the red carpet. He helps her get a job in one of his movies, and gives her advice that aids her career. Her name is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), originally an unknown dancer, with George’s push she becomes a huge star. While she becomes one of the fresh new faces for talking pictures in Hollywood, George’s situation is simultaneously getting worse and worse. These two characters have a complicated relationship, as it seems they both have loved each other from the beginning, but it becomes hard to love each other when George overhears Peppy in an interview saying “out with the old, in with the new”. Despite any problems, Peppy tries to help George right up until the end of the movie.
Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius brilliantly incorporates aspects of the silent era. When the characters speak, we see their mouths move and dialogue is shown on screen afterwards. The Artist is a film that not only requires the silent film era to have come, and films like Singing in the Rain were obvious inspirations, but the silent era also had to come to an end for The Artist to be made. It deals with the themes of changing times, being forgotten, and attempted return to mainstream success. These concepts are highly relevant today, and help the audience associate with the characters. Hazanavicius also knows that he’s made a silent film in a time when they are practically extinct, and he brilliantly plays with the audiences. There is one memorable scene after George first watches a talkie in which he begins to notice the sounds of the world around him as he knocks over things in his dressing room. We hear the sounds like George, almost for the first time. Never before has the sound of make-up quietly toppling on a table drawn me in to such a degree.
The Artist is a tremendous film that stands out against all other modern works. With a marvellous story and compelling characters, The Artist tells a wonderful tale without the overuse of dialogue or sound effects. While many modern viewers will dismiss it for being silent and black and white, The Artist should not be missed. This film may go over the heads of some audience members, but those who fall into its trance will connect with the characters and be dazzled by the absorbing and timeless qualities The Artist has to offer.