At this point, you’ve probably heard that The Artist is a beautifully conceived tribute to the era of silent filmmaking – but I would like to reiterate this fact because of how well writer/director Michael Hazanavicius pulled off this feat. Dealing with emotional themes like failure, change, loss, and growth, the period setting of The Artist allows for a truly comprehensive picture of how the industry made the momentous switch to “talkies.” Few films are able to manage an homage so ably, but when they do, the result is often a moving picture that successfully conveys its message.
First and foremost, I must commend Jean Dujardin for his impeccable performance as the fictional silent film superstar George Valentin. Both he and co-star Bérénice Bejo, whom Dujardin also worked with in the French spy-comedy OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, share palpable chemistry that has carried over from their previous efforts together and really serves to make the film believable. John Goodman also appears periodically throughout The Artist and for an actor who is known for his distinctive voice and delivery, he makes a powerful but silent effort as film studio boss Al Zimmer.
I think my favorite part of The Artist, however, is its decidedly old-school approach to narrative. The film feels very much like a period silent film, where broad physical comedy and classic good-heartedness takes front stage. These themes are an absolute delight to experience, and are something that was so intrinsic to older silent movies.
Despite this being the dominant overarching approach to the story, however, there are still hints of modern filmmaking sprinkled in. While the majority of The Artist is lighthearted, fun, and romantic, it can also be quite sad and quite dark. While these moments certainly don’t detract from the overall feel of the film, it is worth mentioning since they do stand in contrast to the more positive segments.
I also appreciated how much The Artist was able to get me thinking about the dawn of film and how cinema has evolved over the past century. One the most interesting ideas that The Artist brings to light is how both we as an audience and the industry as a whole have made the transition to “talkies” being the standard instead of silent cinema. Hazanavicius challenges us to think about this incredibly famous era, why it is we moved into talking films, and what we lost along the way. For my part, I believe that the most successful filmmakers and actors today are those who have truly mastered what the silent film generation brought to the table.
The Artist has made me realize that silent film still has a major role in modern cinema; how much an actor can convey visually and without speaking is an incredibly potent technique for displaying emotion. The Alfredson film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the best recent example I can think of that minimizes dialogue and instead favors wordless expressions, music, cinematography, and scene shifts to tell the story. Through the moving original soundtrack by Ludovic Bource and wonderful acting by the lead performers, everything we need to know as viewers is expressed beautifully.
If The Artist has any faults, it is in the minor pacing issues throughout the film. Overall, the story feels tight and concise with a clear path from beginning to end. Despite this, I have found that there was some odd staggering of emotional climaxes in the film. Seemingly final moments were doled out in the very first half hour of the movie, the second act seemed to come to no solid conclusion, and it isn’t until the wonderful third act that it all ties together. All three play together nicely as an ensemble in retrospect, but the pacing was something I was definitely conscious of as I watched the movie. I wonder if this issue comes as a result of the film’s 100 minute runtime, since many (though not all) of the classic silent movies tended to be shorts that ran for a third of that time.
Bearing everything I said in mind, I still do not think I can accurately translate my feelings on The Artist to my readership. I certainly can tell you that I recommend this film to anyone who is looking for a truly unique piece of cinema, and that in every technical aspect The Artist is a very well-made film. However, the emotion and feeling that the audience experiences seeing this movie is very difficult to describe.
Think of it this way – I am using words in this review to talk about a movie that tells us everything we need to know without nearly any words whatsoever. If that thought appeals to you whatsoever, then The Artist deserves your time.
Verdict: Movie Win
A Note on the Soundtrack – I adored the soundtrack to The Artist; the skill with which composer Ludovic Bource weaves the story along with his music is incredible. Many times we do not give a fair shake to the role which music plays in setting the tone of a film, but the nature of The Artist is such that we are forced to recognize the aural component of film and truly embrace it as it brings us along on Hazanavicius’s journey. Without Bource, The Artist would not have worked nearly as well as it did.