The Artist

Directed By: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo

Fall 2011 seems like the season for filmmakers to put out movies about making movies.  First, we had Martin Scorsese's Hugo.  Then, we had Simon Curtis' My Week with Marilyn.  Now, we have French director Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist.  With all these films, I'm now just waiting on some bold director to tackle the current period in movie history.  I wonder how they're going to glorify the crap that studios put out today.

With all these movies about movies, I have just one question.  Is there anything else to make movies about these days?  Filmmaking is still a very young art form, and it's a little early to start making a bunch of movies where directors are showing just how much they love the films of the past.  Films that give lessons in cinema history like The Artist are definitely enjoyable, but it's not quite the time for these films yet.

While attending the premiere for his film A Russian Affair in Los Angeles, silent movie actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) goes outside to give an interview for the press.  While he's out there, a young woman named Peppy Miller (Bérénice  Bejo) drops her purse.  When she goes to pick it up, someone in the crowd pushes her right into Valentin.  Both a star and a romance are born at this very moment.  Miller poses for the press and even gives Valentin a kiss on the cheek.

After that night at his film's premiere, Valentin sees Peppy on set with him for his next movie.  She uses the fame for that fateful night to land a minor role in his film.  After this film, talkies are introduced to moviegoers, and a new era in cinema is born.  From there, her career as an actress skyrockets as she becomes one of the faces of this next generation of filmmaking.  Meanwhile, Valentin is convinced that talkies are a fad and tries to continue making silent films.  With the talkies growing in popularity, Peppy and George are on two completely different trajectories.  Their careers are moving in completely opposite directions.

The Artist is a really good film, but it's been overhyped.  There were definitely some lulls very early in the film, and the plot is fairly simple and straightforward.  This was expected though.  We're dealing with a silent film here, which is limited in many ways.  Despite these issues, it's a film you'll undoubtedly enjoy because director Michel Hazanavicius has made sure that his film is authentic and truly ties back to the silent films of the 1920s.  The Artist is an ode to a totally different era of film when every word from a screenplay didn't matter.  What does matter in the film is what's not being said—the body language of the actors, the music used in the score, and what Hazanavicius chooses to put on camera.

The acting in The Artist is superb.  Jean Dujardin and Bérénice  Bejo give touching performances as George Valentin and Peppy Miller.  They give their characters a depth that can be understood without having to hear a word they say.  The romantic chemistry between the two is palpable. The key to translating all of this for moviegoers is their body language.  Though we can't hear a word they're saying, we can see exactly how they feel.  It's quite impressive and bold that they're able to deliver such heartwarming performances in a silent film in 2011.  Also, John Goodman is absolutely hilarious throughout the film.

Another major strength of the film is the music.  I'm not going to spoil the movie for you and tell you what tunes composer Ludovic Bource chooses to use, but I will say that you may recognize a few tunes if you're a really old soul.  The music he uses is really key to the storytelling here.  With the exception of a few intertitles, we're not getting that much help from Hazanavicius to understand the film.  Bource's music picks up the slack and helps us out, and we need that help.  We all grew up with the talkies and spend very little time watching silent movies.

With all the movies about the movies this year, we've really gotten an extensive study of film history.  Hugo covered the earliest days of film when silent movies reigned supreme.  The Artist dealt with the transition from silent films to talkies.  Finally, My Week with Marilyn captured the final glory days of cinema's golden age.  While history class has been in session, I have definitely needed a few drinks to get me through each lesson.  Like any class though, there were a few lulls where shuteye was a temptation. It's definitely not the best film I've seen this year, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Artist.  It gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.