In an era of cinema where films like Avatar and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol are breaking sensory limitations, The Artist provides audiences a different set of sensory challenges, in particularly, the absence or minimization of them.
For those who are unfamiliar with the title that is sweeping award’s season off its feet — it won Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes earlier this week and is a Best Picture frontrunner with countless BAFTA and other guild nominations — The Artist is a nostalgic, black-and-white Hollywood throwback to the likes of Singing in the Rain, A Star is Born, Sunset Boulevard and other classic Hollywood bourgeoisie films. Oh, and if you haven’t heard, it’s a silent film.
The Artist takes place during the late 1920’s when all films came sans sound, when its star George Valentin (Dujardin) ruled show business with his Chaplin-esque performances. Off screen he carries the same humor and allure that makes him so beloved. Unfortunately his wife finds his gig less charming, and gives him the cold shoulder when his indulgence and relationship with his Jack Russell terrier goes to far. His chauvinistic routine is broken up when a young fan and extra named Peppy Miller (Bernice Bejo) catches his eye and leaves him reeling. But youth’s not exactly on his side.
As talkies begin to take the town by storm, the proud idol soon finds himself in a heap of destruction while Peppy becomes the new face and voice of pictures. Stock market crash, divorce, pride and jealousy ensue.
Written and directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist proves itself beyond a gimmick by being romantically old-fashion while being thoughtfully contemporary. Self-awareness and subtle references are clever tricks to keep it from stammering. Throughout the film the audiences experiences small exclusions to then-day filmmaking rules that guide us through the conventions. This is noticeably inverse of Scorsese’s similar cinematic preservation attempt in Hugo.
It’s ironic — in the least surprising way — a film that primarily lacks sound depends on it so heavily for thematic and technical purposes. Ludovic Bource’s score is perhaps the best example of this as well as the earlier mentioned exclusions and tricks that assist audiences in the crossover, becoming more amplified and intricate than most of the orchestral music found in the era. The intensity of the score allows The Artist to paint a much fuller picture.
And while the film and its actors give their damnedest to pull of such a feat so seemingly effortlessly, it is still met with underdevelopment faults faced by many other films from the era it aspires to embody. The Artist need not worry about such fears: audiences will easily overlook any blemishes as they open their eyes, ears and hearts to the crowd pleaser of the year. That is, if the crowd will show to a silent film.