Celebrity is just obscurity biding its time. These words were spoken by the delectable Carrie Fisher in her one woman show Wishful Drinking and I cannot think of a more appropriate connection to writer/director Michel Hazanavicius’ ode to the silent era with The Artist.
Set in the years of 1927 through to 1931, The Artist follows the career of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) through a black and white lens. As the story begins, the Golden Age of Hollywood is only seconds away. Before its appearance, Valentin is an actor of immeasurable stardom and at the top of his game. Outside the premiere of his latest film, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) accidentally bumps into Valentin and becomes fodder for the front page of the papers. This in turn acts as an easy foray into the studio system, later crowning her a fresh new faces of “the talkies” and then onto ultimate stardom.
Chronicling the advent of talkies and the pressured nature to keep current, Hazanavicius pays tribute to the stars of yesteryear that have long since faded and disappeared with his almost-silent film. Stringing together varied styles of classical Hollywood, film noir, musical, slapstick, romance and melodrama are cleverly weaved together throughout the film in an impressive feast for the eyes.
Dujardin and Bejo have magnificent chemistry together. Dujardin is effortlessly charming and expresses his emotions with just the right amount of exaggeration. Bejo is breathtakingly beautiful and impossible to take one’s eyes away from. Born with eyes made for the silent era, Bejo dazzles with a truly heartfelt performance. A special category should be created for Best Animal Performance and be awarded to Uggie the dog, in a supporting role that has garnered as much attention as the two leads.
Every actor in this film displays the perfect inflections and movements that fit the depicted time period. Penelope Ann Miller skilfully demonstrates the melodramatic desperation of an unhappy housewife when she breaks down in a typically dramatic outburst. Missi Pyle hysterically channels Jean Hagen in Singin’ in the Rain, as does much of the films plot. James Cromwell and John Goodman also embody the expressions of the animated character actors in supporting roles, with Cromwell delivering wonderfully forlorn whimpering.
Ludovic Bource assembles a vibrant and heartbreaking musical score. Recently, much unnecessary controversy was over the inclusion of accomplished scores from composers such as Bernard Hermann. Hazanavicius and Bource dispel any creative concerns, as the insertions are legal, and fit wonderfully within the intertextual film.
Enchantingly adorable, The Artist is a big nostalgic kiss to the glamourous days of a beloved era and one of the best films of the last decade.
The Artist opened theatrically in Australia on February 2 through Roadshow Films.