Sunday, 11 September 2011
TIFF 2011 - The Artist
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Malcolm MacDowell, John Goodman and James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller
By Alan Bacchus
What a remarkably entertaining film. French director Michel Hazanavicius's love letter to the silent film era has the potential to be the movie event of the year. It’s a remarkably poignant, humorous and thoroughly entertaining black and white silent film presented in the style, tone and form of this era in Hollywood.
Like studio classics of yesteryear, such as All About Eve and A Star is Born, The Artist chronicles an epic journey of a Hollywood actor from the highs of stardom to the lows of obsolescence and back up again in miraculous fashion. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent film star who is obsessed with his own celebrity. After the premiere of his latest swashbuckler starring himself and his frequent sidekick, his dog, he's on top of the world. He lives in a lavish mansion decorated which shameless portraits of himself and all other forms of self-congratulations. His marriage falls apart when he's caught in a photo being kissed by a fan, the coverage of which puts the young gal, Peppy Miller, in demand as well. Peppy's background extra parts in films slowly turn into bit player parts, then back-up dancer parts, then co-star roles until eventually she becomes lead actress.
Stardom arrives for her in 1929 with talking pictures, a time when many actors like Valentin suddenly were out of demand, unable to transition into the sound era. As Valentin hits rock bottom, Peppy's star hits its height. Despite the cavernous distance between their career paths, the spark of love remains, the blossoming of which might just help Valentin get back on his feet.
Oh yeah, all of this is silent. That means no dialogue. There's a wonderful music track though, which guides us through the emotional ebbs and flows. But it's the phenomenally expressive performances that take us back in time and make us care about what happens, beyond our admiration for the technical audacity. Dujardin's resemblance to Gene Kelly is so remarkable that the film deservedly belongs to sit beside Singing in the Rain, which also used the switch to the new sound era to frame its story. His comic timing and physicality hit every comic and tragic beat for maximum dramatic impact. Dujardin is so good, he's practically Rudolf Valentino raised from the dead.
The Artist reminds us of Todd Haynes' experimentation with a Douglas Sirk-style melodrama played absolutely straight. This film works as well as Haynes', if not better. It's so well executed, it has a chance to open up lay audiences to how and why silent films were so popular and remain as entertaining as anything made today.
The Artist might just be the front-runner for the audience award here at TIFF and perhaps film of the year. Oscar might even be calling.