Back in 2005, an independent movie titled “Brick” helped resurrect the fading neo-noir genre and served as a strong tribute to the genre’s most notable conventions. Last year, the previously well-known silent film genre was similarly brought back from the dead by up-and-coming French filmmaker Michel Haznavicus’ “The Artist.” As a longtime film buff, I’ll admit that I surprisingly have never seen a silent film in my life, but “The Artist” is quite the experience for an introduction to the famous genre.
Taking place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is relishing in his success as a superstar of the genre. However, the movie industry decides to make the transition to talkies, which soon begin to take a heavy toll on his stardom. On the other hand, this switch opens the door for young extra Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who quickly begins rising as one of the most sought-after actresses in Hollywood. The film intertwines their stories to explore the demise of one genre and the rise of another.
French actor Jean Dujardin does a phenomenal job as George Valentin. A demanding performance like this relies heavily on charm, charisma and facial expressions, and Dujardin knocks it out of the park. In addition, Dujardin boosts the realism of his performance by transforming himself into a person that looks like they were ripped right out of the silent film era, which is mostly due to his pencil thin mustache and omnipresent tuxedo wardrobe.
Alongside Dujardin, Berenice Bejo delivers a lighthearted, free-spirited performance of equal award-worthy caliber as Peppy Miller. She displays sizzling chemistry with Dujardin, which creates a relationship between their characters that is very sweet and emotionally touching throughout the film.
For me though, the surprising scene stealer of this film is Uggie, the 9-year-old Jack Russell Terrier that serves as George’s devoted companion. Full of energy and seriously devoted to his down-on-his-luck owner, Uggie entertained me to death with his spot-on comedic timing with Dujardin and in conveying the emotional owner-canine relationship. His performance has received such high praise that fans have started an Oscar campaign for him on Facebook as well as creating a Twitter account in his name. Now he’s the most famous non-human on social-networking sites since the once missing Brooklyn Zoo cobra!
Writer and director Michel Hazanavicius delivers a beautiful portrait of the Golden Age in Hollywood from the late 1920s to early ’30s, even with a black and white color palette. His script follows the conventions of the silent era but also pays terrific homage to the first few decades of film in the 1900s. Additionally, his direction shines in several scenes, especially a carefully constructed, yet extremely surreal sequence involving a nightmare that George has, where many different types of sound surround him to a point where he reaches insanity.
The score is also quite noteworthy, which is actually quite vital to keeping you entertained given that this film has no dialogue. Composed of classic instruments from the time period that the film is set in, it perfectly matches the tone of each scene, whether it’s the vibrant, enthusiastic pieces in the beginning of the film or the mellower scenes where George’s downward spiral worsens to darker degrees. Also, a shoutout to Alfred Hitchcock aficionados, because there is a strong chance that you’ll recognize a famous score piece from one of his most highly acclaimed classics at some point in this film.
To pull off a silent film is quite bold during an era that’s being dominated by 3-D, explosions and unnecessary sequels, but “The Artist” is a stunning, crowd-pleasing tribute to one of cinema’s greatest genres. It’s one of those films that will leave a huge smile on your face when you walk out of the theater because of its immense entertainment value and heartfelt drama. Whether or not you’re a fan of the silent film genre, “The Artist” demands to be seen as an experience that’s newer than any other film released in the past decade.
Rating: 5 out of 5