Now here is a type of cinema the world could use more of. Shot in gorgeous black and white, The Artist is a breathtakingly beautiful film and a passionate, funny, touching, glorious and incredibly romantic ode to the classic 1920’s silent film era. It’s criminal to even call it a film because it’s a piece of art – delightfully feisty art, packed with magnificently colorful characters and moments. Not only does this film justify its 10 Oscar nominations, but it also offers you the most fun you’ll ever have at a movie theater.
Writer-director Michel Hazanavicius weaves a rich mélange of eye-popping tones in The Artist. The story, acting, direction, artwork and costumes gracefully mingle to form a lovely portrait of the 1920’s cinema and Hazanavicius beautifully flexes the period trappings. It is 1927 Hollywood, and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a colossal star of silent romantic adventure sagas. He has a grand life at his mansion with his glamorous wife (Penelope Ann Miller), his little pet dog and a chauffeur (James Cromwell). Things take a turn when his studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) comes across new technology – movies with sound, and realizes that they would soon replace silent films. George scoffs at the idea of this new technology, and parts ways with his producer. He proceeds to direct, produce and star in his own silent films, with disastrous results, while his former love-struck co-star Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo) becomes a talkie Hollywood movie star.
Director Hazanavicius finds the right tone and no portion of The Artist feels uneven or over-the-top. The entire cast is outstanding, particularly star Jean Dujardin who with this role has pretty much affirmed his place in Hollywood with his Best Actor Oscar nom. Dujardin effortlessly nails numerous silent film burlesque guiles that you thought were extinct. Bérénice Béjo is charming as Peppy Miller, beautiful even when her face is covered in gloom. There’s even the hilariously rambunctious John Goodman and a warmhearted cameo from James Cromwell. Sadly there is no category for cute dogs in the Oscars or the one in this film would’ve scored a nomination.
There’s sheer magic to be found in Guillaume Schiffman’s stunningly exquisite cinematography that makes every frame seem like a vintage storybook illustration. The Artist is a film that celebrates films, and it plays as homage to classics like What Price Hollywood and A Star Is Born and a brilliantly inventive update of Singing in the Rain. There’s even a dash of the Charlie Chaplin films, resplendent with the elements that made them marvelous, though with its own creative alterations. What works the best in The Artist is that beneath all the homages to Hollywood's bouncy 1920’s, beyond the references to the pantheon of filmmakers, and behind that gorgeous photography, there is this simple truth that when you watch great cinema, it duplicates the feeling of being in love.
The Artist is entertainment in its absolute crystalline form. You would be a complete fool to miss it.
(First published in MiD Day)