When I saw that CinemaParrotDisco‘s IMDB Top 250 challenge had The Artist up for grabs for reviewing , I signed up immediately. I’ve always wanted to watch the film and it was in my Blindspot list as well, so I figured, kill two birds with one stone eh? 🙂
The Artist is bravura in film-making. It is completely unapologetic. Instead of your mainstream film that champions a bonanza of eye-popping camera tricks and visual feasts, or prides itself as having dialogue that’s engaging and extensive, The Artist is a complete rejection of the big-screen movie formula. It dispels the notion that ‘effects’, or some other word suggesting the advent of modern film-making, is needed to produce a great film. In fact, it is in the very drastically different approach the film has taken that has led it to create new experiences for audiences; It has broken into the virgin land of pure emotional resonance. Indeed, it’s not the first silent and black and white film. But considering our current day and age, it has boldly relived a nostalgic era of the past and breathed new life into a picture that transcends accesorries: No colour, no sound and nothing to adulterate the experience. To use a cliche phrase on a wholly un-cliched film, The Artist is the embodiment of ‘less is more’. Director Michel Hazanavicius and actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo seemed stretched to their maximum potential to create raw tension from acting alone. And how fitting was it that the film was about the very struggle itself, the fight to hold on to the last vestiges of success, and the tragic tryings of a man who desperately held on to that which he gave him voice – Silence.
In all that forms The Artist, nothing can be said to be pretentious. We’ve seen too many pretentious films these past two years, the most notable of all is a fellow Oscar winner same-genre film Birdman. It features a ‘washed-up broadway actor’ trying hard to regain relevancy and salvage his ego. One cannot help but compare the two, and if you’ve put off seeing The Artist for some reason like I did until recently, I say wait no more! But enough about the one-take ‘much ado about nothing’ film and let’s talk about something truly revolutionary. Paying homage to both the black & white as well as the silent era of films in the past, The Artist could only have pulled its stunt off with the conviction and power in both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo’s acting. The former plays a sort of celebrity figure in a dying age. Dujardin mixes just enough pomp and suave to foreshadow his later downfall. Bejo plays the vivacious and preppy up-and-coming rising star hoping to rise through the ranks. Their chemistry is unmistakable, and becomes a point of contention between destructive co-existence and fruitful romance.
John Goodman plays the ultra realistic director/production boss who shifts with the tides of cinema, at one point telling George Valentin(Jean Dujardin) quite directly, “The audience want’s fresh meat.” But let’s get real here, the other characters didn’t really leave us with anything. Jean and Berenice stole the show. Oh wait, I almost forgot George’s pet puppie. But we’ll get back to that later. Michel Hazanavicius’ directing is splendid. What I love so much about the film was its untainted portrayal of the ‘silent era’. Even in the most joyful moments, the quiet functioned to unsettle a little,then a little more until the internal struggle of the mind truly reared its ugly head. Indeed,silence does play around with how we feel. In the film’s happiest moments, the psychological effects of George’s nadir festers in subtlely. At the end, quite surprisingly, one of the film’s sweetest moments come when the end seemed doomed to the inevitable.
Ultimately, The Artist takes you through the bygone age, unearthing a richly depicted world of film-making in the silent era way back. You’ll find the silence a little puzzling at first, but when Jean begins to hear the sounds of his habitus but not the sound of his own voice, you will start to fully appreciate what the film is actually trying to say. It’s not simply a romance film of disconnected lovers . It’s not about a love-hate relationship with ego toying with the frailties of man. It is in fact about the value of a man in terms of the art he creates, and his horror and sadness at the cruel workings of time that slowly sweeps everything it once glorifies into memory. Dujardin’s performance is powerful in that he is able to show the artist that has come undone, and Hazanavicius masterfully creates humour and catharsis to salvage the nilhilism and devastation he has built up. Oh I almost forgot…the dog! Well actually other than being Jean’s best pal, this little guy actually represents both George and Peppy(Berenice Bejo); The dog’s loyalty mirrors George’s unflailing love for his art while also being a symbol of Peppy’s undying support for Jean. There’s so much to explore and interpret on your own, so go watch it if you haven’t because I’m sure it’ll touch you.
Partly a tribute to film of ages past and partly a romantic-comical film, The Artist is an ode to the psychology of the artist, craftsman and performer. It is an insightful look into the fine barometers by which these artists weigh their own worth and success, and the dysfunction when the world no longer shares the same sentiment. It is admirable but also tragic and Hazanivius shows how there can perhaps be a saving grace that transcends all the art and craft in the world. In a nerve-wrecking finish, The Artist offers us what we hope for. And although we can’t truly say that we’re certain of what lies ahead, we know for sure that love that is pure is love that can save us all.
Images credited to La Petite Reine, ARP Sélection, Studio 37, La Class Americane,France 3 CinemaU Film, Jouror Productions, JD Prod, Warner Bros and The Weinstein Company