‘The Artist’ Review
A silent film about silent films
When talking about ‘The Artist’, it doesn’t seem right to dicuss the film in terms of plot and performances. Its defining aspect is that it is silent film, and it serves as window for the audience into the world 1920s cinema, and this is what makes it one of the most interesting films of the year.
Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent film star at the peak of his success. He is as charming as his mustache is thin. However, he is unfortunate to find himself working in a time when talking films are on the rise, and he is finding himself to be increasingly irrelevant in a time where sound films are all the rage and nobody watches silent films anymore. With his downfall comes the rise of Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo), a friend of George Valentin and a former extra in his films who has become a star in her own right with the rise of talkies.
The first thing you would notice are the similarities with the film ‘Singing in the Rain’, which deals with same topic of Hollywood’s transition from silent cinema to talkies. Yet, while ‘Singing in the Rain’ was a comedy, ‘The Artist’ is a melodrama, and goes to great lengths to show the plight of fallen film star George Valentin.
‘The Artist’ is not so much a modern take on silent films as it is a full-fledged silent film in its own right. The film follows closely the storytelling elements, stylistic features, tropes and even the aspect ratio of silent films. It confines itself to all the limitations of the medium, yet revels in its style, and seizes the opportunity to throw in some delicious self-references and meta humor. The film doesn’t tell its story in the same manner we are used to, neither does it have the same characterization present in modern films. The film’s story and characters are unique to its form, told in a stylized manner that is radically different than the more ‘realistic’ color films. Michel Hazanavicius has wisely chosen to employ as little intertitles as possible, telling the story almost entirely through the actions and expressions of its actors, Dujardin and Bejo.
Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo both do a wonderful job, driving the story of the film with grace and charm, but it is Dujardin who stands, mostly because of his larger screen time and as the central character of the film. He certainly would’ve made a perfect silent star, not only because he can look like one, but because the he manages to be as expressive a silent film demands, conveying the emotions and trials of his character without speaking a single word of dialogue.
‘The Artist’ is a lovely homage to silent films, and manages to stay incredibly faithful to its medium. As a silent film made almost a century after silent films stopped being made, It is a chance to experience film when it was a different medium and witness acting and storytelling methods that would seem quite foreign to the average modern viewer.
George Valentin (referring to sound films) “If that’s the future, you can have it”
Trivia: The destruction of George Valentin’s career as talkies came to prominence is a very real issue that faced many silent film stars, most notably John Gilbert.