Sunday, January 15, 2012

Film Review - The Artist (dir Michel Hazanavicius)

Let's be honest. This film is a predictable piece of romantic schmaltz filled with a compendium of some of the biggest movie clichés of all time, complete with a cutesy dog. It's a rehack of the well-worn tale of the fading star being eclipsed by his pretty young protegé, who belatedly comes to appreciate what he had done for her. Not only that, but it's silent and shot in black and white - did anyone mention that? And d'know what - despite the silent movie gimmick being hyped beyond belief, despite every scene being telegraphed beforehand and despite anthropomorphic animals in cinema making me cringe - despite all that it's absolutely wonderful and well worth all the noise.

Part of the reason for its success is the sheer élan of the film-making. This is a labour of love and it shows. As soon as one sees the distinctive art-deco credits  faded at the edges, one is reminded of so many films of the late twenties and early thirties. And this continues throughout. Almost every scene elicits a thrill of recognition, even if it is for recognition of a well-worn cliché. 

Being primarily a silent movie gives it great scope for sound-related coups de théatre which Hazanavicius exploits to great effect. After the opening dance number the music ends and we expect to be engulfed by the audience's applause, but instead we are envelopped by silence. I note that the Alliance of Woman Film Journalists have voted "The sound of glass clinking on the table" from this film as their unforgettable movie moment of the year, and without giving the game away I quite agree.

Jean Dujardin as fading star George Valentin is superb, a hint of vulnerability always at the corner of his twinkling eye, and Bérénice Bejo radiates exactly the charisma that one would expect of up-and-coming movie icon Peppy Miller. Both are nearly eclipsed by a pitch-perfect John Goodman hamming it up for all he is worth as the producer Al Zimmer, but the star of the show is undoubtedly Uggie as Jack, a dog of acuity, insight and undeniable attractiveness. A lot of nonsense has been written about his eligibility for Best Supporting Actor awards. Of course he is simply fortunate that he has been trained well and looks cute - just like many of his human counterparts.

There are so many allusions, references and in-jokes that this is probably a film best appreciated by dedicated cinéastes, but its sheer ebullience makes it a pleasure for all who enjoy romances, films for film's sake and who don't need a raft of flashes, guns and special effects. Forget 3-D, silent films might be the future.

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