Re:View – ‘The Artist’
There aren’t many films about these days that you can genuinely call enchanting, but this is one of them. Having wowed audiences at Cannes (a year when every film was about death or violence) ‘The Artist’ is that rare thing, a crowd-pleaser without compromise or sentiment.
It’s a love story and a comedy about a man who cannot talk – literally, for this is Hollywood in 1929, just as the silent era of films is ending, and its biggest matinee idol George Valentin finds himself without a voice. Having coming out against the talkies, his career crash is of his own making, and his failing fortunes are mirrored by the meteoric rise of Peppy Miller, the chorus girl who fell for him. But George was married then, and the pair were parted. George’s pride refuses to let him accept a lifeline, and soon there appears to be only one way out…
Not an entirely original story, you’d think, but its presentation is. ‘The Artist’ is actually made as a black and white silent with intertitles, and what you’d think is a gimmick quickly adds layers of meaning. In a dream sequence, George finds himself voiceless when everything else has sound. His wife complains that they need to talk, but he can’t communicate on any level.
A French film shot in Hollywood, its visuals are ravishing, with street scenes that convince you they’re real, but the real surprise is the performances; Jean Dujardin (from the OSS 117 movies) is perfection as a Clark Gable-ish star, but it’s Berenice Bejo who knocks everyone else off screen as the It Girl the fans love. Staggeringly beautiful, with a killer wink, she rockets through the movie lighting it up.
The film is filled with the kind of clever visual jokes the silents excelled at (I loved George dancing with a pair of legs he finds beneath a scenery screen), it also has the best dog performance – and this one’s not CGI.
Perhaps a few minutes too long in the downbeat centre section (where the film suddenly feels like a serious drama found by its audience on a rainy afternoon many years ago) this is probably the most pleasurable film you’ll see all year. I imagine it’ll have Woody Allen biting his fist and asking himself why he didn’t think of it. Thank God he didn’t.