The Artist is a victim of its own success.
Before its release in Australian cinemas – the film had received Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe, Broadcast Film Critics, Cannes Film Festival, Director’s Guild and National Board of Review nominations (and in most examples at the time of this review- wins)
For most of the running time, The Artist delivers a well-constructed nostalgic trip through a part of cinema long since eroded. Jean Durjadin, portrays George Valentin, a narcissitic silent leading man who hogs every spotlight and every encore. But with the introduction of talking films- his career must go a different path. But the stubborn Valentin refuses to budge.
At the same time, the newest IT girl on the block – Peppy Miller (played by Berenic Bejo) embraces the newest form of film making.
Durjadin, clearly channeling the ghosts of John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks, delivers a wonderful engaging performance that rarely puts a foot wrong. In particular, scenes involving his actual acting or dancing a the silent leading men, are some of the most memorable.
Bejo’s performance is one that grows in statue after the film. While Durjadin clearly drives the story and is instanteously loved – Bejo’s performance, upon reflection, continues to push to the front of one’s mind – but never quite supersedes Durjadin.
Although placed in the supporting category for the Oscars – Bejo is clearly the lead actress, and to not promote her as such (Oscar politics aside) is disrespectful.
When scenes in The Artist are successful, they really are tremendous film moments. And just watching the film to find subtle silent /talkie historical references is part of the fun.
It does start off slow and really only gathers strength once the subplot of the talking film is introduced.
Not every performance in The Artist hits the mark. John Goodman’s portrayal as the studio boss Al Zimmer is too forced and comes off as obvious. The irony being that the transition from talkies to a silent film for Goodman doesn’t work.James Cromwell’s supporting role is minor, with the character not having much influence over the story, and becoming easily forgotten.
Malcolm McDowell’s appearance is so minor it’s almost worth glossing over – if not for the subtle and (hopefully) intended in-joke of casting the man who sang ‘Singing in the Rain’ in A Clockwork Orange- a song made famous in another silent-to-talkie film.
If we look at The Artist as a whole, it is exhilirating to think that a silent, black and white film, has garnered so much attention within the last year. If, at the very least, it has forced film-goers to become acquainted with silent films from the early 1900’s, then it has achieved more than we should greedily have wished.Kevin Brownlow, the Oscar winning historian, wrote a publication about the silent film industry. The title was ‘The Parade’s Gone By’, a reference to how actors and crew must accept that the silent films have passed. But it hasn’t gone quite yet. There appears to be one last goodbye, one last spotlight, for an industry that should never have left us in the first place.
Director: Michael Hazanavicius
Runtime: 100 minutes
Score: 3 /5