' ' Cinema Romantico: The Artist

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Artist

"The Artist", the (not totally) silent French film set in the late 20's, early 30's that Harvey Weinstein got a hold of in order to make his annual Oscar run, suggests something the film-worshiping Quentin Tarantino would have made if his influences were Chaplin & Keaton rather than Leone & Sonny Chiba. To not say it's completely aware it's a (not totally) silent black & white film made in a talking, colorized world would be wrong, but to say that its ultimate intentions are not warm and loving would be wronger than wrong.

It opens by presenting a film within a film where the character on the movie screen inside the movie screen is specifically declaring that he will never speak, he will never say a word, and thus the viewer would be forgiven for momentarily fearing that writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted an artistic lecture on how modern moviegoing audiences don't truly appreciate the early days of the cinematic movement. (Hey! I just DVR'd "The Gold Rush"! Okay?! Back off!) But it quickly settles down. The Artist of the title is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, procuring the most mileage from a movie smile since the days of Errol Flynn), a silent film star who is the toast of Tinseltown. He has a mansion and a wife (Penelope Ann Miller, who always kind of looked like a silent-era star) and a devoted dog who doubles as his co-star and not a care in the whole dang nabbed world! He falls, kind of, for the auspiciously named wannabe starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) whom he decides to favor her over his current leading lady (who, by the way, angrily gives the "finger" to Valentin a mere 15 years after Rose DeWitt Bukater gave the "finger" on the R.M.S. Titanic which is to say if "Titanic"-haters are gonna keep griping about Rose's "finger" then they've gotta gripe about this "finger" too).

Before long, however, Valentin morphs into a Roaring Twenties Jack Horner, clinging to the outdated silent movie tradition even as the talkie movement overtakes it. Eventually he (and his loyal dog) will be re-located from the top to the bottom while Peppy Miller becomes the new toast of Tinseltown, willing and able to show off her speaking voice.

This story is as old as, well, the silent era. Man Has Everything. Man Loses Everything. Will Man Regain Anything? And this seems to be the intent of Hazanavicius, to homage the silent era with the story that's straight out of it. Even so, there are moments when he steps outside of that homage, such as one particularly meta moment where the movie teeters on the brink of going all Charlie Kaufman before making a predictable about-face and opting for Bob Newhart waking up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette instead.

Yet Hazanavicius never overstays his welcome in the land of self referential and never dwells in the darker turns of his tried and true story. Overall it's a small, sweet, simple movie made with a lot of love that returns us for a brief time to a cinematic era that I would argue was never really any better than the one here and now but is missed nonetheless and deserves to be remembered. And on that score, "The Artist" succeeds.


Derek Armstrong said...

Rarely have I loved a movie so much on an intellectual level ("should") while not quite loving it on an emotional level ("do"). I was entertained, I was impressed and I felt a warmth for the material, but I still didn't feel exactly what I expected to feel upon leaving the theater. (I think part of that is because the movie eventually exhausts you -- it could have easily been 20 minutes shorter). Still, you'll see this high on my 2011 list because, well, it's damn impressive on every technical level you can conceive. Who would have thought someone could make a silent movie in 2011 that actually looks like a silent movie from 1925? And as you say (or at least imply), the two leads are phenomenal.

Nick Prigge said...

It's good, of course, but it just didn't.....sweep me away.