Cinema Review: The Artist

Leon Nicholson reviews The Artist starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo and James Cromwell.

On General Release from Friday December 30th, 2011.

There’s no doubt about it… we’re living in an age where nowadays, most mainstream movies are wholly superficial, soulless and dull. Pandering to the masses, film has gone through a stage where it seems bums on seats are more important than talent.

Why should a storyline play second fiddle to big ass special effects?  Why should cinemagoers pay £7 plus a pop for the same old tired, lazy formulaic rom-coms,  those stupid films with fast cars doing triple somersaults through the air or those damn awful “lets bust a move on the dance floor” movies.

The problem is that these genres have now creatively (and I use that term very loosely) reached saturation point. They do have a place in cinema… if they are well executed but unfortunately the influx of these poor quality movies seem to be responsible for stemming the development of new and potentially emerging passionate filmmakers and writers who are waiting for just one opportunity to showcase their talents.

Then along came Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, to restore our faith in the film world.

Set during the late 1920s – early 1930s, The Artist centres on the life and fall of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) a Silent movie star whose career is on the wane and the rise of Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an actress made famous by the Talkies, the catalyst for the R.I.P. of silent movies. This “romantic” melodrama explores their relationship with each other,  in addition to Valentin’s struggle to cope with his fall from grace and more importantly, how he has been forgotten by an era that once worshipped him. With his pet dog by his side, his struggle mirrors that of the now dying silent film world.

The Artist has gone back to basics and closer to the ‘origins’ of cinema. How? Well, not only does the story propel the film along with the brilliant performances by Dujardin (who won the Best Actor Award at Cannes 2011) and Bejo but itself is a black & white silent movie proving that a film does not need flash, inventive dance moves; flamboyant handbrake turns; incessant shagging and sickly, schmaltzy, gooey Curtis-like-love!

It also helps that The Artist has a decent storyline and wonderful colourful characters we care about. Valentin is a proud but successful actor. In fact he’s a star – a world star. Even though he has narcissistic tendencies, he’s loveable and charming with a killer smile that most Aquafresh models could only dream of possessing.

Miller is a lovely girl desperate to follow her dream and reach the top. She too is loveable but a tad goofy – but it is this delightful quality that wins our hearts. Their chemistry is out of this world, every moment they share on screen tugs on the heartstrings. They simply are fantastic together.

The brilliant support from the likes of John Goodman (Red State) and James Cromwell (Spider-Man 3) is as if they belonged to that era, making this feel like an authentic 1920’s silent movie.

Even the Uggie the dog has been remarkably trained providing great moments of entertainment akin to Martin Crane’s dog Eddie in Frasier.

The romance that flows through this movie is not exclusive to the screen but it also exists between the director and the film. The Artist is Hazanvicius’ love letter to the genre and the period. Everything about this, including the style and fonts of the opening credits screams love and passion for this era which is then expressed through Michel’s superb direction and Guillaume Schiffman’s beautiful cinematography.

The Artist is a truly wonderful, feel good film that deserves all the praise it has recently received. A contender for film of the year, it will be no surprise if it wins a few gongs during awards season.

A must for film lovers. Truly exceptional!!!

FMV Rating: *****

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