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Home » Movies

Movie Review: THE ARTIST

Submitted by on November 11, 2011 – 4:44 am 20 Comments

In the past five days I’ve seen eight movies, most of them considered Oscar contenders. I loathed a couple, liked a few, but there’s one that I’m passionate about, a film I can unequivocally get behind when the awards race heats up: Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist (out 11/23).

When I told a friend I was going to see a silent, black and white French film set in 1920s Hollywood during the transition between silent movies and talkies, she joked that she’d fallen asleep while I was describing it. Normally, I might have been snoozing right alongside her, but this was the most buoyant, unique, and charming film I’ve seen in a long time. If that’s not enough, it features a really cool Jack Russell terrier who should get an award for best supporting dog.

The film opens in 1927, with silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) at the height of his popularity. At one of his premieres, he literally bumps into one of his fans. They mug for the cameras and she ends up with her picture on the front page of Variety but remains a mystery woman. Turns out she’s an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the two meet again when she gets a bit part in his next movie. The chemistry between them is potent, but the friendship stays platonic as George remains faithful to his wife despite their unhappy marriage.

As the story moves forward into the next few years, George’s fame starts to wane when he resists the advent of talkies, while Peppy becomes a sensation by embracing the new technology. But she never forgets the man who gave her valuable advice at the beginning of her career, watching over him even when he thinks he’s lost everything, and eventually helping him find his way back to what he loves most.

Now comes the part when I unleash a bunch of glowing adjectives to convince you to see the movie. Writer/director Hazanavicius has created a lovely valentine to the cinema, showing the heart and sometimes heartbreak behind the magic we see on screen. His cast is led by the exuberant Dujardin as Valentin—he deservedly won the best actor award at Cannes this year—and the captivating Bejo as Peppy. They spark together, managing to convey first attraction and then something much deeper, all with minimal physical contact and no dialogue.

The supporting players include John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller, but the standout has to be Uggie, the dog who plays Valentin’s loyal companion on screen and off. He’s a combination of Asta and Lassie, accomplishing feats both clever and heroic.

The period costumes by Mark Bridges are gorgeous (Bejo’s nightgown is glamorous enough to wear to an awards show), composer Ludovic Bource hits all the right notes with the score, which is even more important in conveying the tone in the absence of dialogue, and DP Guillaume Schiffman makes everything look stunning in black and white photography. Every aspect of this movie is a delight, and not only did I not fall asleep, I left the theater feeling revived and, well, peppy.

Nerd verdict: A delightful, creative Artist

Photos: The Weinstein Company

Note: If you’re interested in hearing the stars speak about the movie, check out this video of the Q&A they did after the L.A. Times Envelope screening I attended. Bejo spoke fluent English but Dujardin brought an interpreter. He also claimed he didn’t speak “American dog” well enough to communicate with Uggie during filming but helped things along by carrying sausage in his pockets.

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20 Comments »

  • EIREGO says:

    I started hearing about this movie during a marathon of Buster Keaton films which played recently on TMC. I immediately began having low expectations. I mean, why on earth would they make a silent film in this day and age? Mel Brooks tried one a couple of decades ago and it didn’t work. I have been waiting for someone to review it an confirm my suspicions that it sucks. Really? It’s good?

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      It’s wonderful! I can almost guarantee you’ll like it. Bejo said at the Q&A that when she was approached by the writer/director to do this movie, Avatar had just come out in France and everyone was saying that’s the future of movies. So she thought Hazanavicius was a little nuts, because why anyone would want to see a silent movie in this day and age? But that’s exactly why it’s so special. It takes you back to basics, to great storytelling and engaging actors, with no explosions or special effects.

  • Lauren says:

    I felt, as you know, the same way as EIREGO. And I’m not sure why, because the only silent movie I have ever seen, SILENT MOVIE, I loved (and EIREGO didn’t – Sid Ceasar hooked up to a pong machine heart monitor?! What’s not to love?). But my sense is that most silent films are NOT like SILENT MOVIE. So I’m very excited that you loved this film so much and can’t wait to check it out. The stills above are beautiful.

  • Christine says:

    I thought the same as Lauren regarding the stills…beautiful. Well, you sold me, Elyse. I’ll definitely go to see this film!

  • EIREGO says:

    Hey, PCN, are you saying Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier in this film has a shot at the, ahem, Paw d’Or? Okay, sorry, I had to.

  • I’ve been really curious about this film since you first mentioned it, and those stills are gorgeous. I doubt it will come to my theater, so I may have to make the trek to Houston to see this one. Thanks for the advance warning!

  • I’m there! I’m not sure how I feel about the silent aspect of it, but it looks like it will be a visual feast, and I’ll be curious to hear how the soundtrack is used in this context. Not to mention Uggie sounds adorable. Wouldn’t life be simple if we could woo people by putting sausages in our pockets.

  • Rhonda says:

    You convinced me with your glowing adjectives. And Uggie. I’m sure it won’t play in my town either, but after reading your review I definitely won’t mind a trip to Atlanta.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Yay, the adjectives worked! I read somewhere that Uggie was about to be taken to the pound by his original owner because he was hyperactive and his current owner/trainer rescued him. I can’t imagine Uggie at the pound. He’s a movie star!

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Once you all have seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please come back and leave a comment. It’s no fun loving a book or movie if I can’t discuss it with others.

  • Raven41191 says:

    I started to go see the artist, then I found out…my remote has a mute button. Soon all movies, even tv shows became like the artist. I saved myself some money, and I’m hoping that Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure wins best picture at the oscars, it was such an amazing silent film. Who knew that turning the sound off was revolutionary. Thanks The Artist for making sound editors lives so much easier, they just need to hit that mute button.

    Get it, a film isn’t good because of this crutch, because anyone can do it. My two year old did it jut the other day by mistake. So please stop with all the high praise of doing something that isn’t continuing the momentum of film, but is actually bring it back to the dark ages.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      THE ARTIST isn’t receiving high praise because it’s silent, it’s because it’s a delightful film with charming actors, a good story, and strong acting, even from the dog. This is why it’s received numerous nominations for the actors, the director, and its screenplay. And the movie’s sound editor’s job involved working with the music to set the tone and highlight the action.

      It’s not bringing film back to the Dark Ages, but reminding audiences that a good film is first and foremost about telling a good story with characters we care about, not special effects or 3D or other gimmicks some directors use to disguise the fact they don’t have a story worth telling.

    • EIREGO says:

      How can you argue against something if you haven’t seen it? Luckily, voters don’t agree with you and when it wins Best Picture at the Oscars (my prediction) then you probably end up going to see it anyway.

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