The critical darling The Artist, is a silent film about silent films. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius wanted to pay homage to that era of Hollywood and he certainly succeeded. The film follows two actors in Hollywood during the late 20s as they deal with the rise of talkies in a world that has been silent.
The plot itself is fairly simple. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is the big silent film star at Kinograph Studios. But, with the creation of talkies, he finds himself quickly replaced by “fresh meat” like rising star Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). George attempts to make his own silent film to prove that people still want them, but it inevitably fails when it’s released the same day as Peppy Miller’s new film. The stock market crashes; and George, finding himself unemployable, gives in to despair (despite the fact that Peppy tries to help him). The story itself feels holds few surprises, but it is strong enough to hold the film together.
However, it is the style of the film that the director was more concerned with. He wanted to use as few intertitles as possible, so as not to distract the audience. Thus, the story could not be overly complex. And, with a limited use of intertitles, he often uses them for comedic effect. The symbolism in the film, though, is a bit overdone. George’s failed silent film ends with his character sinking in quicksand, an all too literal portrayal of the depression he sinks into thereafter. But Hazanavicius utilized other symbols in the film to better effect. He incorporates sound into a few scenes for dramatic and symbolic effect that work wonderfully. The take the audience (and characters) by surprise and add a special dimension to the film that the original silent films could’ve never had.
The acting in the film was truly great. Dujardin does a wonderful job as George. He really strikes you as the movie star he is playing. His comedic scenes in the first part of the film are done splendidly and make a nice contrast for his dramatic work in the later parts of the film. In most of his scenes, however, his acting is overshadowed by the adorable Jack Russell terrier that follows him everywhere (and later has a very important role to play). Bejo’s Peppy grows as a character as well. She almost forces her way to the top, and then tries to use her influence to make George happy. There’s a yearning for George you can see in her eyes. There are plenty of sparks flying between George and Peppy in the beginning of the film, but somehow they get lost in the drama that comes later and they never seem to regain their full romantic force. The romance in their relationship is brought up at first and then never fully resolved, which is the only really disappointing aspect of the film.
Overall, the film appeals to a wide audience, and it is one of those films about Hollywood that reminds you why you fell in love with movies. I was neither surprised nor disappointed that it took home the Best Picture Oscar.