Before I started One Movie Each Day, I’d never seen a silent film. However, having now seen a couple movies from the silent film era, (plus one enthusiastic callback), I feel well prepared to dive into today’s movie, the most recent Oscar-winning best picture, The Artist.
The film is equal parts tribute and nostalgia-trip, it’s almost entirely silent, making due with some sparingly-used intertitles for dialogue. (Sound is used, and is very effective for its sparsity in two brief scenes.) Additionally, the film uses the 4:3 aspect ratio, and 22 frames-per-second camera-setup to authentically re-create the look and feel of an old silent-film.
Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin one of the foremost leading men of the silent screen as the action begins in 1927. In a chance encounter he meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), who through a series of somewhat unlikely but entirely plausible events is able to use the meeting as a foot-in-the-door to an acting career herself. Around this time, studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) informs George that he will be switching all his future productions to “talkies.” George reacts poorly to the news, declaring sound in pictures a fad. Stating that nobody wants to hear him talk, George quits the studio and sets to work producing and directing his own new movie. Meanwhile, Peppy’s star is rapidly on the rise, and as luck would have it her first feature as leading lady is set to debut the same day as the silent picture that George has sunk most of his fortune into, October 25, 1929.
Things take a fairly predictable course from there with George in a downward spiral, due in no small part to his pride preventing him from being able to move on or accept any help. At the same time Peppy’s career continues to take off, until they inevitably meet again. At one point towards the end of the flim the depths of George’s hubris started to come off as more than a little unrealistic to me. However, by the end, I’d had enough of an explanation to at least be be able to resume my suspension of disbelief.
The film was entertaining from beginning to end, though it definitely did drag some towards the middle, I actually stopped the movie, and took a nap, before coming back to finish it. I’m not sure that the blame for that can be pinned entirely on the film, but that’s what happened. Still, I enjoyed the movie a great deal, even though I don’t think it’s necessarily the best picture of 2011.
On the other hand, Dujardin acts his role with such enthusiasm and passion that its not hard to understand why the performance won him so many awards. Much of the frustration I mentioned earlier came from the fact that, despite the limitations of the genre, Dujardin made George Valentin feel like such a real person that I wanted to relate to him, and I was frustrated because the degree of pride and arrogance the character seemed to be exhibiting seemed unrelatable.
I was less impressed by Bejo, though I certainly can’t find much, if anything, to fault in her performance. I thought that John Goodman and James Cromwell were great in their supporting roles. There were also a handful of noteworthy cameos in the film. Amongst those I noticed were Bill Fagerbakke and Joel Murray, both playing police officers, and Malcolm McDowell as The Butler.
Overall this The Artist is an amusing and joyful tribute to a both a specific bygone era, and to the glories of the past, in general. The film deserves credit for making a bold decision in its conception, and for sticking with it. It would be worth seeing if only as a novelty, but its also worth seeing for its story, and for Dujardin’s excellent performance. I thought about calling this a must see, but I can’t do that, because it didn’t quite have that level of resonance to me. On some level I think I wanted it to, but it just wasn’t there. Neverthless, The Artist is well worth seeing.