Saturday, December 24, 2011

THE ARTIST (2011)

Written & Directed by Michel Hazanavicius



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. November 27, 2011  7:50PM


"The Artist" is a delightfully sweet and loving valentine not only to the classic silent films but to the magic of the American cinema. This film, however, is actually created by a French writer/director, Michel Hazanavicius who offers an European prospective, much like the immigrants who came to this country and helped shape the films of early Hollywood. The other highlight of this film is that it introduces the very handsome and charismatic Gallic actor, Jean Dujardin (who won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival for his role in this film) to American audiences.

During the very early days of cinema, long before there was sound, an actor had to possess many special qualities in order to become a major film star; an attractive, expressive face, a dazzling bright smile and, most importantly, have a unique, otherworldly charm that jumps off the screen and George Valentin (Dujardin) has it all and more.

After the premiere of his latest film, the fans couldn't get enough of him and George was more than happy to oblige them. Mugging and hamming it up onstage, the audience devours every moment, much to the annoyance of his co-star (Missi Pyle). Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), an aspiring actress, was among the frenzied crowd outside of the film engagement and manages to get photographed right next to the movie star with the picture ending up splashed across newspapers and magazines.

One person who is not a huge fan of George is his wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) as their marriage is crumbling apart and the photo hasn't helped matters. The only two that George can always count on is his loyal valet (James Cromwell) and his trusty dog (Uggie) who is also a co-star in many of his films.

Peppy auditions for a role in the latest George Valentin film and is spotted by the actor, who remembers the beauty, offering her the job on the spot. The studio head, Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is strongly opposed to the idea but since George is the star, so we know which one will prevail.

Later, Zimmer announces that the studio in going to begin making "talkies", where the audience can now hear the actors speaking on film. George finds the idea ridiculous and nothing more than a passing fad but Zimmer insists. This time, the boss wins and George decides to leave the studio to make his own movies.

Two years later in 1929, Peppy has become a top box-office draw and about to release her first talking picture while George has invested his entire life savings in to an epic silent film. Unfortunately, George's star has fallen and nobody is interested in him nor his old-fashioned movie. After the stock market crashes, George's life falls in to crisis and turns to liquor to help him try to forget. Is George doomed to fade into cinematic obscurity or will he be able to find a way back on to the silver screen?

"The Artist" is a light, breezy romp that has no desire to go any deeper than that which is perfectly fine. It recaptures a simple time in cinema, where classic stories combined with moving images first captivated audiences and well over one hundred years later, it still has that power. The film is in glorious black and white, almost completely silent (with the exception of the terrific score by Ludovic Bource) and while "The Artist" is certainly a gimmick that is old-fashioned and overly sentimental with a very familiar plot that has been done too times to count but that is exactly what makes this film so satisfying as it combines all of the classic elements that we love about cinema; romance, slapstick comedy, drama in addition to a lovely final musical dance number and rolls it all in to a truly enchanting film..

Mr. Hazanavicius has done his homework as he created a picture perfect period piece with the assistance of production designer, Laurence Bennett and costume designer, Mark Bridges who have creatively captured the fine details of the era.

Mr. Dujardin, who may be unknown to most Americans unless they caught his performances in the "OSS 117" French spy spoofs, (where he first worked with Mr. Hazanavicius) is absolute perfection as the smooth, old-school Hollywood charmer. He is currently one of the biggest film stars in France right now and with the help of this film, I hope Mr. Dujardin is ready as he's about to become a world-wide sensation. Argentine actress, Ms Bejo, who just happens to be the long-time partner of the director, is a true delight and very talented although at times she comes across as just a touch too modern.

"The Artist" is a dazzling achievement that will appeal to everyone in the entire family. It is most certainly one of my favorites of the year.