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