With the Academy Award season just behind us, it is clear which picture has swept the hearts of America. To the dismay of many teen super fans, I’m not referring to the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise. Rather, the film that has all the critics, including this one, talking is Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, starring French actor, Jean Dujardin and Argentinian-French actress Berenice Bejo.
The Artist has gained critical acclaim across the board, most recently winning numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture. Others include winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and the BAFTA Award for Best Film, and receiving a 97 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Since debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, the film has stuck out for multiple reasons. However, what intrigues audiences and critics alike is that the entire film, with the exception of the final few moments, is completely silent. The Artist relies heavily on its score and particularly its actors, to advance the storyline of a dimming star, George Valentin, who cannot sustain his acting career as the studios transition to talking film.
George is, for all intents and purposes, the quintessential Hollywood star of the silent film era. He is the dashing, masculine lover, a Valentino-esque caricature who meets a similar fate as many other stars of the era. With the invention of sound, George is forced out of work and must auction off his possessions after watching his final attempt to save the silent film fail.
No story is complete, of course, without a young and beautiful love interest. Berenice Bejo takes on the role of Peppy Miller, the young aspiring star who represents the new age of the motion picture. While George is representative of the elimination of silent film, Peppy is the charming ingénue whose career explodes with the transition to “talkies.” Both Dujardin and Bejo are outstanding in their roles and are able to perfectly balance the struggles faced between the past and the future. However, these Oscar-nominated stars are not the only ones who shine in this film. John Goodman is great as the stereotypical studio executive, and although his character is essentially flat, he is a key role—the man with the power to make Valentin and Miller’s careers or end.
The Artist is not so much a piece of film history as it is an homage to the history of film—not only in the casting, but also in the narrative devices. The original score gives the feeling that this is not simply another movie, but an event, much like in the time period that is portrayed. This also helps to highlight the emotions, thoughts and actions of the characters without the oral cues and narration modern moviegoers are used to.
The art of cinema is always changing. However, what’s interesting is how the most critically-acclaimed film of the season brings us right back to the beginning when it was merely a silent art form. Do not let the fact that this is a (mostly) silent film turn you off from it. Sometimes, in order to appreciate what we have, we must take a step back in time and realize how we got here. The Artist does just that.