Walking into the Grand Théâtre Lumière at 08:30 in the morning, still pining for the softness of my pillow, one could have been forgiving that a black and white silent film was going to be a bit of a bore fest. But believe me when I say that any negative preconceptions which you may have about the sound of such a film should be thrown aggressively out of your nearest open window. What was in store from director Michel Hazanavicius this morning, was one of the real delights of the festival.
The Artist tells a story of an ‘A’ list silent actor, named George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who is the face of a film company owned by John Goodman’s character. In early 1920s America, he is at the top of his game; he is loved, he is successful, and he has charisma and wit to match. The problem with George is that he is struggling to move with the times – the revolution of ‘talkies’ has come around and he is left behind to spend the next few years selling his possessions, and getting by on ends meet after the Stock Market Crash.
Conversely to George’s diminishing stardom, we have Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who emergences as the new face of film, and whose films are a resounding hit. Peppy is an adoring fan of George, and after stealing a fortuitous kiss in front of on-looking journalists, she embarks on a her career when landing a role as an extra in George’s last blockbuster hit. As this film marks the beginning of her fledgling career, it seems to come as a last hoorah for George. As the years move on, George becomes a forgotten man to everyone accept Peppy, who does her best to look out for him from a distance. It is when he is pushed to breaking point that they suddenly dawn on an idea to get George back on the big screen, and start the next wave of film revolution.
The Artist is an honest and touching look back to the period of silent film. Its infectious and unyielding rhythm is a pleasure, and each character is acted masterfully. I find little that this film does not give, there were moments of happiness, comedy, romance, melancholy and despair. From the onset there is a real tenderness between George and Peppy, but this is not a romance that gets too weighed down with slushy gestures, but where each lingering look and longing expression is done with sincerity. The acting is only matched in places by the music score, with which I defy anyone leaving the cinema afterwards not be whilst tapping their feet, with a grin from ear to ear.
It’s going to be slightly interesting to see how this film is going to be marketed. Unfortunately, no matter how much good press this film receives, it is unlikely to be perceived as fashionable. With the Weinstein Company taking the reins though, The Artist has its best chance of become the hit it deserves. I cannot wait to go and see this film again, and it has ignited my desire to immerse myself in silent films when I return home.
The Artist is a very well made film, with exceptional performances, that is an absolute joy to watch.
The Artist Review [Cannes]