There is a moment early on in The Artist where silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) tries to make amends with angry wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) by attempting to lighten the tension in the room. George and his dog commence a simple comedic routine in unison that brings a smile to your face. His wife is not amused and merely walks away in disgust. It is at this moment that it becomes clear that the audience is in for a truly special experience.
Taking place between the 1920s and the early 1930s, The Artist focuses on a time in history when silent films were on the brink of extinction with the invention of “talkies”. George Valentin is one of the big stars of the silent film era. He is adored by the masses, including the young up-and-coming actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and he has a lot of clout with the film studios. When the studio head, Zimmer (John Goodman), tells George that the future of filmmaking are films with spoken dialogue, George scoffs at the idea and sees it merely as a gimmick. As the studio movies ahead with their plans to introduce “talkies” into cinema, George soon finds himself on the outside looking in. His career begins to spiral downwards and his only companions end up being his dog and his loyal chauffer Clifton (James Cromwell).
The Artist is a brilliant homage to an era of cinema that is gone, but not forgotten. Director Michel Hazanavicius creates a wonderful film that conveys a strong and moving story despite not having any dialogue. To say that The Artist is a technical marvel would be an understatement. The lush black and white visuals give the film an authentic feel, and the use of sound is simply stunning. For example, the scene where George is confronted by a world in which everything emits sounds but him. The use of sound helps to give the scene both a comedic, and at times horrific, effect.
Although gorgeous to look at, The Artist transcends from a mere homage film due to its depth in plot. This is as much a cautionary tale about the evils of being too prideful as it is a love letter to the cinema. George’s reluctance to accept both change and assistance from others is what leads to his downfall. Dujardin does a fantastic job of using physical gestures and expressions to display George’s state of mind through the various stages of his career. Dujardin has undeniable charisma and his scenes with Bejo are great. The pair really provide the love story with a truly magical feel.
The Artist rode into TIFF on a wave of good buzz from the Cannes Film Festival. While at times the almost defying level of hype can hurt a film, when it does not live up to people’s enhanced expectations, this is not the case here. The Artist delivers on every level as it will make you want to run out and purchase every silent film ever made. The film is a wonderful experience and it is one of the best films you will see this year.