So here’s Hugo‘s biggest rival at the Oscars, The Artist. Most of the night will be dedicated to overpaid, undertalented bellends all slapping each other on the back and smiling like they’ve never slaughtered a sex worker or five in their time. In case you haven’t guessed, I don’t really like award season. Especially when deserving films like Drive, for instance, are almost completely overlooked in favour of mediocre “racism iz bad” flicks like The Help. The Golden Globes are a joke, the Oscars are a sham, but I quite like the BAFTAs. Anyway- here’s a film that actually deserves the praise lauded upon it.
The Artist (2011)
Much like Hugo, The Artist‘s presentation could easily dismissed as a “gimmick”. Some of the criticism levelled at this film has been concerning the fact that there’s not much depth to the film and the black and white visuals, title cards and swingin’ soundtrack are just ways of hiding this fact. These people are obviously great, big swaggering cretins. The Artist is a pastiche of storytelling in the silent era. Most films were simple love stories, because the medium was just starting to find its feet and fuck, it’s what people wanted to see. It’s the reason romantic comedies are still about to this very day.
The Artist tells the story of silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who literally bumps into Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) outside a movie premiere and due to his showing off and propensity for posing accidentally sets her on the path to superstardom. Meanwhile, the movie-making business is changing and people are demanding “talkies” over his more traditional output, a notion which Valentin scoffs at and Miller is more than happy to step up to, filling the megastar-shaped hole left by him. So, as I said in the first paragraph, it’s basically a simple love story. Having said that, there are enough caveats and interesting twists and turns to stop the film from being entirely predictable. I thought both Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo were fantastic in their roles. Both have the silent acting styles down to a tee and are take plenty of opportunities to mug and exaggerate facial expressions. Also, James “That’ll do, pig” Cromwell and John “brings the ruckus” Goodman make appearances. Oh, and Valentin’s dog, who steals every scene he’s in.
I really had fun watching The Artist. The novelty of watching a silent film didn’t wear off and came across as downright charming. The only downside to this being that you can hear the old biddy three rows back rustling her sodding sweet wrappers with startling clarity. There were times where I forgot I was watching a silent film as I was caught up in the melodrama of it all. It’s important to note that The Artist isn’t the first film to do the retrospective silent thing, as Mel Brooks did it about 40 years ago with Silent Movie. It could be argued that Brooks did a lot more with the gimmick than The Artist does. However, that’s really beside the point.
There’s one really talked about scene where Valentin has a nightmare sequence in which sound invades his life for the first time and he finds himself unable to speak. At first I rolled my eyes because I assumed the film was going to pull a Pleasantville with sound instead of colour, and have sound slowly become the norm. Thankfully, it doesn’t come to that and the sequence is remarkably well done. The film is also genuinely funny and had me smiling throughout most of the runtime. Well, at the bits that were appropriate, anyway. I found the film to be quite moving too (Fuck you, War Horse) with Valentin’s fall from grace really striking a chord with me.
The Artist is really a unique experience. It may be a cynical callback to the infancy of Hollywood, but it really didn’t seem like it to me. It’s a sharply observed tribute to the silent era which managed to both charm and move me in a way very few films do. Yes, a deep love of cinema or an appreciation for stars like Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd may help, but it’s a classic melodrama that entertained the living hell out of me. Plus, the ending is amazing. Go and see it whilst you still can at the cinema, it’s one of the best films to see with an audience (well, unless you live in Liverpool)