A silent film in the twenty-first century? One would be forgiven for thinking that writer/director Michel Hazanavicius must have been crazy to even try to make such a movie. But I am exceptionally glad this entertaining, engaging, emotional, uplifting, irresistible movie did get made.
The Artist charmed its way into my heart, in part thanks to its poignant depiction of the decline and eventual death of silent films as the talkies took over. What’s remarkable is that it managed to do so with hardly any effort at all.
Before seeing the movie under consideration, I wondered what it would feel like watching a modern silent film in a theater. As it turned out, I almost completely forgot I was watching a movie with no dialogue only a few minutes into it. There is nothing gimmicky at all about the film’s form.
Hazanavicius imbues the proceedings with an infectious ebullience and a strong sense of affectionate reverence for the silent movies of old. Make no mistake about it: The Artist is so meticulously researched and crafted that it comes across, by and large, as a movie made in the heyday of the silent-film era.
The storyline is delightfully simple and straightforward in an intelligent, inspired way. It flows smoothly and gracefully from one scene to the next. A more complex plot would have required more intertitles, which would probably have had a negative impact on the pace of the film.
One of the most memorable moments of The Artist is a dream sequence. I won’t mention why I like the sequence in question, because doing so would spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that I think everyone who sees the film will agree with me. It must also be stated that the protagonist’s dog is a real scene-stealer.
The lovely music, composed by Ludovic Bource, plays an integral role in the storytelling, as does Guillaume Schiffman’s beautiful cinematography (the movie was shot in color and then converted to black and white). There are a number of clever visual details—movie titles on posters and marquees, for example—that reflect or symbolize certain narrative developments in the film. The impeccable production design and costume design help to draw the viewer into the world of The Artist.
Jean Dujardin is handsome and very charismatic, and he fits perfectly in the role of George Valentin. Playing Peppy Miller, Bérénice Bejo turns in a well-measured, confidently expressive performance; she and Dujardin have good chemistry together. In supporting roles, John Goodman is excellent as Al Zimmer and James Cromwell does a restrained, quietly moving turn as Clifton.