The Artist

When change sweeps everything away

English (U)
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Uggie
Director: Michel Hazanavicius

At a time when special effects, expensive budgets and 3D rule the world, The Artist comes as a terrific surprise, considering it’s shot entirely in black and white and is almost devoid of sound.

Not only does it pay homage to the “silent era” (1894-1929), but director Hazanavicius crafts his melodrama in such a way, that one would think The Artist seriously belonged to the yesteryears.

By clever use of inter-titles, score and typefaces that reflect the past, there is little reason for anyone to dislike the film.The year is 1927, George Valentin (Dujardin), a big star, is posing for pictures when a young lady Peppy Miller (Bejo) drops her autograph album.

As Peppy retrieves the album, she is accidentally pushed towards Valentin. The next day, Peppy finds her photograph in Variety, next to Valentin with a headline “Who’s That Girl?”

Peppy nurses an ambition to be an actor, and when Valentin finds her auditioning, he not only encourages her, but insists that she star in his next film, much to the displeasure of studio boss Zimmer (Goodman).

It is 1929, and talkies have arrived. With his pride at stake, Valentin dismisses sound as just a fad, telling Zimmer that people pay to see him and not to hear him speak, saying that he will not work if Zimmer embraces talkies. Zimmer, seeing the star potential in Peppy, casts her in his future films.

Valentin produces and directs his own silent film, which opens on the same day as Peppy’s film in which she plays the lead.

Unknown to Valentin, Peppy watches his film on the opening day, despite a very poor response. In the meantime, in a reversal of fortunes, Peppy’s film career takes off, whereas Valentin loses his assets in the stock market crash as well as his wife who leaves him. From here, the movie meanders into the second half, which is not as witty as the first half. How Peppy manages to resurrect Valentin’s sagging career forms the rest of the story. Kudos to Dujardin, Bejo, Goodman, Cromwell (who stars as Valentin’s valet) and Uggie (Valentin’s terrier) for their acting.

The best scenes from the film are the staircase scene, when Valentin realises that Peppy is a rising star, the dream sequence (Valentin’s nightmare when he “hears” everybody “talking”) and the best inter-title, when an old fan says, “If only he could speak”, pun intended at Valentin, more than the dog.

The Artist  is easily the most creative, funny and the best family entertainer of 2011.

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