Can’t say I’ve seen a silent film, like a real silent film from back in the day. Maybe a Chaplin piece from a montage, or something else famous I couldn’t give you the name of even if I wanted to. But The Artist aint really a silent film because it got sounds, kind of. It’s mostly a silent film. I don’t know.
The film centers around two actors living in Hollywood during the late twenties; George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent movie actor with a canine sidekick that he brings along for all his movies, and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), an aspiring actress who works as an extra when she can score a role. They two meet and, from then on, their paths in life drastically alter. George finds out talkies are the next big thing and is unwilling to go along with the hype, dedicating himself to silent films to the end. Peppy has a string of successful parts, bigger and bigger, until she finds success in the new talkies.
The dog in the film was actually played by a smug sense of superiority.
It’s a romantic comedy with a plot simpler than anything I’ve seen in a long time. There’s nothing surprising (well, nothing concerning major plot points) and everything plays out light hearted enough to keep you smiling through the entire thing. Story and plot aint what this thing has going for it. It’s not a movie about movies like Hugo is, a throwback, or even a parody like Silent Film; this thing is a silent film that uses modern methods of storytelling to convey meaning through an obsolete medium. Maybe this is the biggest note the movie plays for itself. It’s a story about the struggle against becoming obsolete. Clever, Hazanavicius. Clever.
There’s a theme running through the film that director/writer Michel Hazanavicius makes very clear: talking. Beyond the vintage credits, music, and look to the film, there is a lack of sound beyond the score. Seeing a room of people clapping without producing noise felt awkward, but it set me up for the whole silent treatment. Sound is used to convey meaning and plot, with many scenes needing nothing more than a change in music to get you to understand what’s happening. It’s a convergence of mechanics of filmmaking and thematic storytelling. Head spins just thinking about it.
John Goodman is in this movie for some reason, but I’m not complaining.
Another big theme is George’s pride, that he can’t share the spotlight. There’s a bit at the beginning where George takes the stage after the premier of his latest film to do a little dance for the audience. His co-star, Constance (Missi Pyle) is all upset having to watch the spectacle, obviously believing she is just as important to the film as George is. George brings his dog on stage before Constance, and when he finally does bring her on, he refuses to share the stage and quickly tricks her into leaving. Later on, the only thing standing between George and Peppy is George’s own pride, keeping him from recognizing Peppy’s significance as an artist as he sees himself.
Now, I mention themes because theming is this movie’s strongpoint. George’s problems all stem from talking or his refusal to talk. The talkie movies threaten his career, his dissatisfied wife wants to have ‘a talk’ (which he refuses to participate in, instead enjoying playful antics or just ignoring her), and even Peppy turns against him using her voice as a weapon. There’s a strange scene early in the movie, a dream sequence where George is terrorized by a world in which sound exists. This is shown by breaking the fourth wall of the silent film by allowing the world around George to have sound effects. George screams at his mirror, trying to make noise, but is unable to do so. A jarring scene, one I took as a sign of importance; the director is telling me straight on that this is the thing. This is the thing this film is about.
I think this might have been both the movie’s most important and the creepiest scene.
How the two big themes interact still eludes me to some degree. Can’t get my head wrapped around it; maybe because I’m not enough of a movie critic to spot it, but I think it might just not be there. “A tangential connection” is the phrase me and my friend used to make our conversation sound smart. George’s pride keeps him from talking, from speaking, and by the end of the movie he’d rather burn his failing identity to the ground than change himself.
If this don’t win all the Oscars, I’ll be surprised. Don’t take it as a film custom made to win awards (it is) but a simple surface with a depth not often found. I thought Drive was my film of the year, but the more I put my brain to The Artist, the more I’m rethinking it.
Writing: 3.5- Themes and depth with simple plot.
Acting: 3.5- Gesture and expression without talking.
Directing: 4- Almost perfect.
Bonus points: Not actually a silent film, technically.
Deduction: Drive not nominated for any Oscars.
Total: 3.75 out of 4- It’s unassumingly impressive and deep and maybe the best film of the year.