Review - The Artist


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Review - The Artist
Is this temporally displaced silent feature really all its cracked up to be?
The Artist (2012)
Michel Hazanavicius
Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo
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In the late 1920’s, Hollywood is ruled by the silent movie stardom of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who has captured the hearts of millions with his mute, charismatic characters. But with the arrival of sound and a new star in the form of young Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), he fears for his future.

The Artist arrives on a sea of hype, earning the top spot on numerous critics lists for 2011. And it certainly has charm oozing from its every cinematic pore but may not leave everyone with the same warm glow.

The film, which comes to screens from director Michel Hazanavicius, is an impressive homage to the silent era of filmmaking but wisely chooses not to hamstring itself by using archaic production methods or even sticking too closely to the supposed rules of early cinema. Sound does feature from time to time, though it’s always used cleverly, and the film is firmly grounded by a light and emotive score from Ludovic Bource.

Without dialogue, the performers have to find other ways to express themselves and while some is accomplished through intertitles, a remarkable amount of The Artist contains no text, relying on the movements and expressions of the actors. This is especially true for lead Dujardin, who displays a remarkable range of emotions through his dazzling smile and a furrowing of his brow. He’s aided, in anthropomorphic fashion, by the Uggie the dog who wins points for cuteness but actually doesn’t feature that heavily.

Even the experience of watching The Artist is remarkably fresh. Despite a solid bed of music, the lack of traditional sound effects or ambient noises creates a startlingly different feeling in the cinema, and the chance of a sudden important intertitle and the focus on the expressions of the performers really makes you engage with the film in an unusual way. It’s unique, entertaining, crowd pleasing and an utterly charming production.

While it has been billed as something of a breezy romantic comedy, there are darker tones to The Artist which may surprise some viewers and the international praise does the final product few favours. It’s often good, sometimes marvellous and very occasionally a little too self-reflexive. Perhaps critics have been caught out by a filmmaker who has managed to not only try something different but also pull it off with considerable aplomb. Director Hazanavicius should be applauded, and if you keep your expectations reined in, you’re likely to have a lot of fun with The Artist.

8 Stars: Recommended
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