Considering every man and their dog had already seen this film before this review goes online, I kind of wondered if there was any point in me even doing this one at all. Though since I'm here and bored I might as well give my two cents. The Artist has already wooed many at last year's Cannes Film Festival, swept the Golden Globes and set to go toe to toe with Scorsese's Hugo for Oscar glory next month. For all the non cinephilies out there, you would be quite right to ask if a black and white silent film is worth the hype, or indeed your time?
Starring little known French actor Jean Dujardin The Artist tells the tale of Hollywood star George Valentin as he struggles to cope with the film industry's progression from the silent movie era into the 'talkies'. Parallel to Valentin's career slowly descending into obscurity is the rise of one Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) as the new darling of Hollywood to usher in the 'talkie' era. Their fates are tied together from the very beginning as George inadvertently sets her career in motion from a couple of impromptu meetings which sparks a classically sweet love story between the two, befitting of the silver age of cinema.
Charlie Chaplin and the odd George Melies film aside, silent films aren't something I'm overly familiar with. I can see the use of them in a slapstick, comedic, context for no more than 15 minutes at a time but I've never once considered how viable it would be in telling a moving love story which contains a hint of serious drama for the guts of 95 minutes, but to its credit The Artist pulls this off beautifully.
Jean Dujardin gives a fantastic performance as the overconfident, self assured, George Valentin. If you didn't know it was made in 2011 you could conceivably believe he was plucked straight from the era itself. Where he really shines is in watching his inevitable downward spiral deeper and deeper into the depths of desperation. From losing his huge mansion, his wife leaving him and eventually having to sell off all his assets. Makes you wonder how many silent movie stars suffered the same kind of backlash from the evolution of cinema into the 'talkie' era.
The sweet innocence of Berenice Bejo shined magically on screen. She was endlessly graceful, thoroughly likeable from her first introductions outside a cinema then onto seeing her meteoric rise through the ranks of Hollywood. Her feelings towards Valentin were some of the film's sweetest moments. Never once considering him to be a loser or washed up in his post silent film days, but instead a man she's eternally grateful towards for setting her on her way.
The supporting performances were littered with studious turns from the likes of John Goodman, James Cromwell and Missi Pyle. While the one getting the most plaudits and praise is quite rightly a little dog called Jack (his off-screen name is Uggie apparently) as George's 'best friend' and devoted companion. The laugh about the dog is that The Artist isn't even his first film, having already notched up appearances alongside Robert Pattinson and Resse Witherspoon in Water For Elephants and David Boreanaz in Mr Fix It.
Director Michel Hazanavicius recreation of 1920s Hollywood was inch perfect. The crisp black and white picture and the genuine glitz and glamour of a time when actors of Hollywood truly were stars. Obviously - being a silent film lest we forget - much of the plaudits (unless you're Vertigo star Kim Novak seemingly) should also go to Ludovic Bource for his stellar score.
Don't let all the award fuss deter you, The Artist is a beautiful piece of niche cinema for all to enjoy. Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin star in of the sweetest love stories seen on the big screen for some time, combining moments of sincere joy, old fashioned Hollywood suspense and one of the most endearing supporting performances from a dog ever seen. Everyone loves to be reminded now and again of way we fell in love with cinema, and The Artist does this in abundance. It's black and white, but undoubtedly set to be covered in gold (statues) next month at the Oscars.
The Artist is in selected cinemas everywhere now.