In an era where cinema audiences are bombarded with romcoms, remakes and endless superhero franchises, along came a silent film that showed the industry that there was a market for the more concerning cinemagoer, who liked something a little different. The Artist became a worldwide phenomenon that swept every award ceremony across the globe, winning 5 Oscars, 7 BAFTAs, 3 Golden Globes, and Best actor at Cannes, as well as being lauded by the harshest of critics and filmgoers alike. The film cost $15 million to make, but has so far amassed over $130 million at the box office, and is only the second time a silent film has won best film Oscar, the first being at the very first Oscars – Wings.
The Artist is a throwback to the golden era of cinema. Set between 1927 and 1932, is focuses on the life and career of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) a silent matinee idol reminiscent of Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert and Valentino. Valentin is an absolutely charming actor at the top of his game. He has everything from smouldering good looks, the most captivating smile and he oozes charm with every look.
He literally bumps into Peppy Miller (Bernice Bejo) at his latest premiere, with the story then concerning the rise of her star alongside the demise of his as ‘talkies’ take over the silent era. Valentin is a stubborn man who foolishly does not believe that sound will be the future of cinema and continues to make silent movies. This is all set against his failing marriage to Doris (played by Penelope Ann Miller) as well as the Wall Street crash. George plunges from screen idol to a nobody, and the only thing he has left is hurt pride and loyal chauffeur (James Cromwell). Valentin eventually reaches suicidal despair, but with the help of his dog (Uggie) and Peppy (who has always been there in the background, with an unrequited love), is there a future for the ex-matinee idol?
Does the film deserve all the accolades it has received? YES! and yes! It is a silent film (well apart from very small scenes), but please don’t let that put you off.
The Artist strips back everything, so that it has an innocent resonance where we actually care about all the characters in the film, and about the era it is set in. There are so many nods to the golden age of cinema, such as nods to Citizen Kane and even the house that Peppy lives in once belonged to Mary Pickford. It is evident that the practically unknown director Michel Hazanavicius has been influenced by this cinematic era, done his research and has done a marvellous job!
At the very heart of the film is Jean Dujardin, who so effortlessly and charismatically makes this film his own. We follow every move he makes on camera and almost fall in love with him. I can see why women had crushes on matinee idols such as Gable, Flynn etc, as never before have I been so engrossed by one character and practically fawning over his every smouldering glance, smile and nuance.
It is evident that this was a labour of love from all concerned. The supporting cast are excellent, the soundtrack and cinematography accentuate every scene, and the chemistry is evident between the director and leads – indeed Hazanvicius is married to Bernice Bejo and has worked with Dujardin in all his films.
Overall Verdict: Do yourself a favour, buy this DVD. I have seen it at the cinema twice, it genuinely moved me more than any film I have ever seen, and being a cynic and critic this is hard to do!
Reviewer: Stephen Sclater