Get out your [silence] we're reviewing The Artist!
George Valentin(Jean Dujardin) is a huge silent film star in the late 1920's. People can't get enough of him, and it kind of goes to his head. When he runs into up-and-coming actress, Peppy Miller(Berenice Bejo), he invariably starts her on a path that will birth her career while killing his. At the same time, he has to deal with the impending release of talkies and the death of his beloved silent movies.
I loved the story. It's not just a love story, it's a story about a man not willing to change. It's funny and tragic and moving, and I loved it (And on a personal note, I'm jealous and annoyed because this is pretty much the story I wanted to tell with Rickety Rat). It was a simpler time, when you could bring a dog into a movie theatre. Valentin finds himself swooning over the break out start Peppy, but at the same time he resents her for taking his spotlight and killing his career. He's a stubborn character and can't bring himself to accept change. The ending is really nail-biting.
The Artist manages to create so much with so little. No, it's not the first great movie to use the silent movie as a gag(Silent Movie by Mel Brooks), but it uses it to great effect. They stay true to the silent movie feel with actors mugging and only using black cards when they absolutely have to, and the few times they do break the sound barrier make it all the more jarring and fun. But it's more than that!
Think about this: they created an intricate love story without a single kiss(save for a peck on the cheek in the beginning). They didn't need to, what with the longing in each others eyes and meaningful looks, the visible swoons, and they pulled it off. It's the mark of a great actor and a great film when they can provide so much without the help of words and sound.
The symbolism may be a little too much for some. It ranges from subtle to over the top, but I loved all of it. The shots are masterfully set up, as though it were a series of paintings or a comic book. I could not get enough of this cinematography. In one shot, a defeated Valentin walks down the street as the shot lines up with a movie title in the back just above his head, the movie title being "lonely star". At which point I jump up and yelled "SYMBOLISM!" Suffice it to say, it is quite artsy.
The visuals are spectacular(and they better be with no sound). The outfits and settings all fit perfectly into the era. They know how to do sight gags, and there are some great dream/hallucinatory sequences, including one where Valentin imagines fighting off smaller versions of himself. I feel like I'm watching a movie directed by Fritz Lang.
I am pulling for Dujardin to win best actor, because he just kills this role. He's funny and lovable and tragic and sometimes a dick. He plays his role perfectly and I could not have loved his character, heavily flawed though it may be, any more. Though I'm a bit biased since I've liked him from his other two OSS 117 films (You should check both of those out by the way). Bejo is also cute and fun in her role, and the rest of the cast, including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, and Malcolm McDowell, are just lovely. And who couldn't love that dog?!
The score is a character unto itself, and an amazingly well acted one at that. It's beautiful and moving, perfectly setting the tone and atmosphere of the scene while giving a view into the inner-workings of the characters. I heard it the other day while reading in Barnes and Noble, and remembered how fun and varied it is. Quite enjoyable, and worth picking up.
THE GOOD: Everything?
THE BAD: Lots of symbolism, if you're not into that. Not a movie for everyone.
OVERALL: A gorgeous film, funny, tragic and moving. Go out and see it while you still can!
MOVIES LIKE IT: Silent Movie, The Man Who Wasn't There, M
ONE SCENE-METAPHOR: Probably my favorite scene: the talkies are quickly becoming more popular than the silent films, and Peppy is on the rise while Valentin is on the fall. They meet in passing, she can't stop from gushing over him, and he has to keep from scowling. What I love is that they're having the conversation on the stairs, with Peppy higher than Valentin. SYMBOLISM!