The Artist (2011)

I like to start the year with something bright and cheerful. Glad I found it in The Artist. It’s a colourful and spirited romance comedy, kicking off the new year with style. The Artist is a black and white silent film made in 2011.

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, it premiered at Cannes and was nominated for the Palme d’Or. The French actor Jean Dujardin won Best Actor at the Festival. The Artist is now gathering momentum for an Oscar Best Picture nom.

I was totally captivated by the film, an homage to the silent era of Hollywood movie-making. In the style and tradition of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, The Artist is a comedy with a heart. It’s not a deep exploration of true love, or what makes an artist, but a light, fun and melodramatic genre piece, gratifying without demanding much.

The story is about a silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who is the rave of the time. His presence is cheered by live audiences at the cinema and on the streets, greeted by swarms of women screaming and swooning. One of them is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring actress. Miller’s dance steps and perky personality soon open doors for her into Hollywood. She can now get close to George, who in turn is mesmerized by her.

But the torrents of change are callous and indifferent. The year is 1927, the pioneering of talking movies. Sound quickly replaces silence. George soon finds himself swept from the top of the world into oblivion. He’s dumped by his producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman), for George is now a nobody from yesterday. Reduced to poverty, he has to let go of his last supporter, his faithful butler Clifton (James Cromwell).

Now folks, this is 1927… not unlike what we’re seeing today. All trends are ephemeral. And uh… I hate to say this, but it was mentioned by my college son who saw the movie with me, sound ~ 3D of today?

Seeing George Valentin’s plight, Peppy Miller cautiously comes to the rescue. Now a popular Hollywood star, she knows how proud he is of his career as a silent film actor, an artist, a purist who refuses to be lured into what he perceives as the gimmick of sound productions. So ultimately, the story is about change, and how one can still seek to accommodate without compromising.

The Artist is a genre romance comedy, silent style. That’s when acting and outward expressions of thoughts and emotions take over in the absence of dialogues. I was impressed by how effective it is. I remember in a screenwriting course, I was told to leave the dialogues to the last. Since film is a visual medium, the actions should tell the story even without any words spoken.

How true it is. I can see vividly this axiom in action by watching The Artist. Sure there are prompters for us, like the old silent films where short descriptions of words are inserted on occasions, more for comedic effects I feel. But I can follow the story, totally immersed in the circumstance of the characters, their highs, their lows, purely from watching them act without saying a word. That is a wonderful experience.

It’s not totally silent though… there’s music of course, and it’s an important part of the movie, generating the mood and momentum. I was totally engaged through it.

And last but not least, I must mention this. All ye dog lovers, even if you aren’t, this is a film for you. If there’s an Oscar for the Best Dog Actor, Uggie should definitely get the honor.

A new year bang. Let the silence speak for itself. Uggie never has to say a word.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

13 thoughts on “The Artist (2011)”

  1. I’m trying to remember the last time I watched a silent movie. It might be time to watch one again. Happy January to you!

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    A silent movie made in 2011, so it’s both nostalgic and contemporary.

    Arti

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  2. I’ve heard so many positive things about this film! No one has mentioned the dog though. Now I’m sold on seeing it for sure!

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    Stefanie,

    There’s an “Oscar for Uggie” Campaign going on and is gathering a lot of buzz. Yes, do go see the film and click here to read about the possible first canine Oscar winner. 🙂

    Arti

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  3. At dinner last night, one of the guests mentioned this as a ‘must see’ film. You’ve cinched that for me, Arti.
    I love your reviews. They are so extremely well done and intelligently written. And I’m intrigued to discover that you took a screenwriting course, and considering your expertise in literary criticism, I’m guessing you have a background in English lit?

    .
    Deborah,

    Thank you for your very kind words. Eng. lit was my ‘dream major’. Due to various factors, I chose the social sciences and later education instead. However, I’ve been compensating and trying to be an autodidact (not unlike Renée of The Elegance of the Hedgehog 🙂 ). Now decades later, I’ve learned to follow my passion. Took some film courses and now attempting to finish a screenplay I started a few years ago in one of the courses. Hopefully 2012 is the year I conquer my own procrastination. Next time you’re back in Calgary, do get in touch.

    Arti

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  4. I’d love to see this but it hasn’t made it to my part of the world yet. Can’t wait!

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    Mrs. B,

    And since it’s an indie foreign film, it may be a while. But if it wins some Oscars, your chance of seeing it sooner may increase.

    Arti

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  5. Oh this sounds delightful – so intriguing! My manager in the book store is doing a PhD on film (and making a film herself). I’m longing to know if she’s seen this one and what she thinks. It sounds very creative.

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    litlove,

    I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy this one… together with Mr. litlove.

    Arti

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  6. It sounds wonderful, thanks to you. I am utterly out of touch with what is playing, so I rely on you. It’s true that this would be an exercise in care for what is shown, not spoken.

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  7. I just wanted to say hi to a fellow Arti blogger! I spell it with two As, but I haven’t met another blogger with the same name as me in a REALLY long time, so just wanted to pop in and say hello 🙂 I found out about you through Mrs. B 🙂

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    Welcome Aarti! This is the first time I type two a’s in my name. 😉 I’m glad we found each other through Mrs. B Thanks for stopping by and intro. yourself. Now I know of your blog. Hopefully this is the beginning of some frequent mutual visits. May I interest you to join us in the Midnight’s Children read-a-long?

    Arti

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  8. The very thought of black-and-white-and-silent in a contemporary film is entrancing. As for the theme, it seems equally appealing, given my distinctly retro leanings.

    And it’s showing in Houston! If it’s still around this weekend, maybe I can get there. I’d love to see it – and Uggie!

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    Linda,

    You’ll enjoy it, well worth the drive to Houston… and after seeing Uggie, who knows, you may have a new pet in your home! But getting a dog and a cat to live under one roof may be challenging to start. 🙂

    Arti

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  9. I’ll confess that I’ve thought more than a little on whether I’d like to see this film or not.

    I liked the short movie trailer I found on Youtube as well as your enthusiastic endorsement of the film. And though it’s not showing in OKC, I’ve learned that the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle named it the top film of 2011. Wonder where they viewed it?

    Anyway, I’ve decided I will see this movie if I can watch it on the big screen. So here’s hoping it will garner some big heavy awards that will drop it down to small markets like mine.

    I think all that time spent with my youngest granddaughter Reese — who has a vocabulary of four words — has primed me for watching this silent art film!

    Janell

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    Janell,

    LOL! Just shows us how little we need language! I think you’ll enjoy it. As for critics viewing, they could have seen it at Film Festivals or they could have gone to special screenings just for them. But I’m sure the film will garner some awards, it’ll ultimately go to OKC I’m sure. Hope you can wait for it and see it on the big screen. It’s the experience of watching a silent movie in the theatre that makes it so unique.

    Arti

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  10. Excellent review, thank you. Jean Dujardin is a dazzlingly talented actor with split-second comic timing and an extraordinarily wide range: I’d watch him in anything, frankly! And Uggie – well, clearly a star is born …

    Min,

    This is my first time watching JD. Would like to see more of him, but we seldom get any French film here. Uggie is great and I guess I should also give kudos to his trainer. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and leaving your comment!

    Arti

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  11. I loved the movie too … And was astonished at how well it manages to retain your attention. Of course silent movies had music too, didn’t they. my only criticism is that the story itself is pretty standard and predictable but it was so well done it engaged me from beginning to end. The cast was perfectly chosen. Loved Peppy – which she was by name and nature. And so nice to see Cromwell. Oh, and Uggie was gorgeous.

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    WG,

    You’re right. The major criticism is that it’s too shallow and frothy. Well, when you’re not comparing it to Dreyer’s works, I think it’s alright, entertaining at least.

    Arti

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  12. I missed this post when it was published, and saw a link from another post. Glad I read it. I saw The Artist a few days before the Academy Awards and I’m still thinking about it occasionally. The scene where he hears sound and the sound is deafening, a scream of pain, really resonates with me: how we are all shocked by drastic changes, even ones that come on slowly when we finally realize the implications. I loved the movie and will probably go see it again. Yes, the story is rather a traditional one, although the male/female roles in terms of who needs to be “rescued” are reversed, but I loved it just the same.

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