OBPC #84: The Artist, 2011

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The Artist (2011): Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius.  Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller. Rated PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture. Running time: 100 minutes.

the artistI remember referencing this film back when I first started the countdown, citing this one and Wings as the only silent (or nearly silent) films to win Best Picture. Premiering 84 years after the first Best Picture (if we’re going by release dates), The Artist paid homage to silent films that existed right around the Academy’s infancy.

Michel Hazanavicus’s nostalgic film tells the story of silent film actor George Valentin, an entertainer in the mode of Douglas Fairbanks. Valentin is a beloved star of silent swashbucklers, but his career suddenly implodes with the advent of talking pictures. Luckily, he has the aid of Peppy Miller, a young starlet whose own career Valentin helped launch.

Marketed as a high-energy romantic romp, The Artist actually spends most of its time moping as Valentin despairs for his lost career. I applaud the film for its consideration of silent film actors who lost their livelihoods, but the film isn’t compelling enough to do them justice. The characters lack depth, and the understated romance, while charming, has no foundation other than plot advancement. The attempts at tragedy are noble and occasionally moving, but they’re solved with relative ease. Hazanavicius prefers the surface to the underbelly; I’m not sure he possesses the uncompromising vision needed to create effective drama.

Still, there’s no denying that The Artist has some standout moments. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are superb leads, recalling silent film stars while adding their own idiosyncrasies. Hazanavicius stages some effective scenes, including a dream sequence on loan from David Lynch. And yes, that dance scene at the end is remarkably choreographed and performed.

While sporadically interesting, The Artist never transcends the novelty of its concept. I understand the appeal of looking to the past for inspiration, but shouldn’t the resulting product feel more substantial? By recalling silent era classics, you may remind people of the superior films they could be watching instead.

Next film: Argo, 2012


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