Sunday, 23 October 2011

'The Artist' Review

'The Artist' (dir: Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) Cert: PG

For those who didn't know, I've been trying to see Michel Hazanavicius' latest picture for months. I have constantly missed press screenings and never thought I would get to see it until the year is out, but by the skin of my teeth, I managed to grab a seat to a matinee screening in London this week, so I can now finally document my thoughts rather than my hopes.

Hollywood, the late 1920s; Silent film sensation George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is soon threatened along with many other actors, by the immersion of the 'Talkies' which dawned late in 1929. After a surprise meeting with a beautiful fan Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), George lands her a dancing spot in one of his features. Soon enough, Miller is the new Hollywood sweetheart and is stealing all of Valentin's thunder. His director Al Zimmer (John Goodman) wants him to 'get with the times' and perform in talking pictures but George is not interested. His world is turned upside down and George quickly realises that he may have let go of his dream job altogether, but there is one person who has not given up on him - Peppy.

 'The Artist' has recently secured UK distribution thanks to The Weinstein Company and the picture is due for a limited release from 30th December. If you are lucky enough to live near a cinema that screens it, do yourself a single favour and go see it. Forget New Year's Eve fireworks and drinks, this film provides as much sparkle and energy as any celebration and it is the single perfect way to end the year. 

 Hazanavicius deserves to be greatly praised for being this bold and brave in an era filled with ghastly 3D box-office gobblers and multiple remakes and sequels. 'The Artist' captures the true essence of Hollywood's 'Golden Age' by being made in perfect black and white, and being a silent film, only aided by spell-bindingly beautiful score - the only thing that could have made it more authentic is if a live orchestra was playing to the screen. It's also astonishing to expect modern day audiences to be engaged, humoured and moved by a silent film lasting 100 minutes - one is sure the sound of that is greatly off-putting to many but those who do see it can thank me later. This is without a shadow of a doubt my favourite film of the year and I would happily watch it again right this instant. 

Still from 'The Artist' (dir: Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
 Everything Hazanavicius has done screams with realism and filmic knowledge - every scene is intrinsically detailed, every building looks the part and the clothing is simply gorgeous. It may surprise many just how expensive it is to replicate the past and film in black and white, but the money has been spent perfectly. In fact, even the film's titles and projection makes it seem like it a restored piece from the twenties. Expect dialogue cards, classic fades and screen-wipes; the works.

 Perhaps the most magical thing about 'The Artist' is that it truly speaks to it's audience and shows viewers why so many love cinema. This is a film about film for film fans - simple as that. It would not be wrong to call it 'the 'Singin' in the Rain' for the 21st Century'. The film's narrative is a fundamentally a timeless love story but it is built around the world of movie-making, fame, power and great sorrow causing it to be a storytelling masterclass. It would not surprise me to see teachers and lecturers screening this to their film students in the near future because it really is the full package when trying to understand movies and how they work.

 The film is an American production funded by French investment so expect to see plenty of famous faces throughout - the incredibly brief cameo from Malcolm McDowell was a personal favourite. However the film's stars are French and Argentinian but this being silent, there are no subtitles. For fans of old silent films, the most obviously noticeable theme is the acting and how psychical the performances are. They obviously could not use dialogue to explain emotions, ideas and meanings so their bodies do the talking without 'over-acting' and being too melodramatic. To find a modern actor who can replicate this so seamlessly must have been an excruciating and lengthy task but Hazanavicius has clearly found the two most capable actors in the world. 

 Dujardin is simply astonishing as George - to an extent his previous roles have boasted strong uses of body language but here he slips back in time and manages with the restraints so effortlessly. His performance is frequently side-splitting and often extremely upsetting. I generally do not think there was a dry eye in the house during one particular scene. He won the Best Actor award at this year's Festival de Cannes and it is so obvious why. Amongst the year's best performances. 

 Bejo is also mesmerising as Peppy - she's a wonderfully diverse character who charms, smiles and dazzles her new-found audience. Much like Dujardin, Bejo seems so comfortable in her surroundings and performs with sheer beauty, elegance and skill. The two of them together are the present day Astaire and Rogers. Plus the film features the funniest, sweetest and most heroic dog you will encounter on the big screen this year - he is marvellous. I sincerely hope both Dujardin and Bejo are nominated for awards when the season comes around and Hazanavicius certainly deserves one too.

 It's a sweeping and often untrue statement to say a film is flawless, but one generally cannot think of a single thing wrong with 'The Artist' - it is the most joyous, celebratory and sensational picture of the year and one can only pray that mainstream audiences do go and see it and respond to it. My screening ended with a 10 minute standing ovation and I would have happily clapped for a further 10. This movie embodies why I adore cinema and why so many others do too. "They don't make them like they used to!" I hear you cry, well, "They do now!"

My favourite film of the year - 'The Artist' is simply a masterpiece and everyone should experience it.

By Chris Haydon

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