Review: The Artist
Directed by Michael Hazanavicius. Starring Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller. 100 mins. Released 30th December. *****
The year’s final release, which comes out on the 30th, is the film which has been the most critically acclaimed and praised on the year’s festival circuit. Now it is time to see what real people think of it.
The Artist is a black and white French silent movie set in Hollywood around the time of the coming of sound and, as such, is a film that is apt to be over praised by reviewers. Film buffs love to drone on about the wonders of silent cinema and right from the off it is clear that this is an uncritical celebration of the glory and wonder of cinema: its opening scene is of a packed auditorium sat enrapt by the film they are watching.
The surprise is just how guileless and straightforward the film is. Don’t expect any postmodernist trickery; apart from one or two moments this really is a late 1920s silent movie that has been made 80 years later. The melodramatic showbiz plot is played remarkably straight. In the late 20s George Valentin (Dujardin), along with his dog Jack, is the biggest star of the silver screen. He is though fatefully ill-prepared for the coming of sound. Peppy Miller (Bejo) is a young hopeful he gives a break to, but whose fame will eclipse him.
The French director/ star combo Hazanavicius and Dujardin previously made the joyously funny and entertaining OSS 117 series of spy spoofs that were big hits at home but unknown over here, where their release was restricted to a few screenings at the ICA. (Who in their right minds would go to the ICA for a good time?) Dujardin is just simply magnetic, a total star. He gift is the ability to send himself up without losing any of his gravitas. His James Bond spoof was more Matt Helm than Johnny English, which is to say that he can play the fool, do a pratfall and still be effortlessly cool. He has a fantastic smile too. He ought to steal the film but Bejo is more that a match for him.
All of which makes me think that this joyous entertainment has something both wonderful and a bit depressing to say about cinema. The Artist succeeds not because of any thrilling innovation but because ultimately it appreciates that cinema really hasn’t come that far over the last century – it’s still all down to star power and simple love stories.