The Artist: The most delightful film of the decade.
It's not often that you come across a film that absolutely, unabashedly fills you with a palpable feeling of joy and delight. In the last decade, you could probably only list off a few, and most of the films on that list would comprise of Pixar's modern classics. So it's because of this that makes Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist such a joy to behold and cherish. Never before have I left the cinema on such a high, with such a spring in my step. So much so, that as I left the twin cinema I viewed this in, I walked out onto the street almost wanting to reenact the final dance scene at the end. The Artist is not only one of the best films I've seen in a while, it's possibly one of the best films I've seen period. The success of The Artist is a miracle in itself. In this day and age of overproduced, CGI laden blockbusters, comes this near silent, black and white, French made film. That it's the front runner for this year's Oscars, also speaks loads about the sheer brilliance of The Artist. This is a perfect example of the oft-discussed ideology that you don't need a massive budget or big name stars to make a crowd pleasing film, nor do you need mind blowing special effects or spectacular action. The biggest star in this film is John Goodman, and even he's a guy who has "That guy!" status.
Judging from the trailers, you'd maybe assume that The Artist is merely about two Hollywood stars who fall in love. However, you'd be wrong. Sure, love is a major factor in the film, but it's not the centerpiece of the story. The film is more about the rise and fall of Hollywood stars, which may sound a bit meh, but it has surprisingly more depth than you'd expect. Set around pre-Great Depression Hollywood, our lead character is successful silent film actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). His silent films, as we see in the opening scene, were widely beloved by audiences, but before too long, the future of movies arrives: the talkies. Determined to keep making what he loves, silent films, Valentin begins to direct and star in his own films. Despite this, people have moved on from silent films and onto the talkies, where young and upcoming star Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) is becoming the hottest star in Hollywood, while Valentin crashes and burns into nothing.
The beauty about this story is that it appeared to me to have something to say about our film industry today. Even though it's set in the late 1920's/early 1930's, the film feels as relevant today as it would have been back then. We are at a time in cinema history where formats such as 3D and Imax, and even technologies like CGI seem to be the only way. So what's left for the filmmakers who choose not to jump on the band wagon? Are they left to crash and burn like Valentin? The existence and the success of this film busts that idea. I don't think many people could have predicted that in 2012, a black and white silent film would be successful. Sure, it's not lighting up the box office like, say, Avatar or anything, but $46 million off a $15 million budget is nothing to chortle at. And it hasn't even won the Oscar yet.
Part of why The Artist works as well as it does is due to its outstanding (and now Oscar nominated) lead performances. When making a silent film, you need to have actors who live up to the task of conveying a character through expressions and body language rather than through voice work Thankfully, Dujardin (who is apparently one of France's biggest stars and will become massive in Hollywood after this) more than lives up to the task. In fact, Dujardin fully embodies the role so as to become Valentin. This is a performance that makes you smile and laugh as well as feel heartbroken and perhaps even tearful, and that's the mark of a great performance. I would love to see him get the Oscar. Whether he can steal it from Clooney is a tough one, but it might just happen. Dujardin's tour de force performance is perfectly matched by Bejo. While Valentin seems like a larger than life character with an expanded ego, Miller, thanks to Bejo, appears much more human and makes for perfect foil for Valentin. Bejo and Dujardin have such fantastic chemistry, and it really shows, particularly in the final tap dancing scene which is worthy of applause, which happened at my screening (and you don't get that often). And kudos to Uggie the dog too.
Everything in this film is so beautifully realised, from its fantastic set and costume designs, to its absolutely fantastic score by Ludovic Bource, which is an integral part of the film as it would be with any silent film. But the man you have to give the most props to is director Hazanavicius. His direction within this film is never showy, in fact it's quite the opposite. While The Artist could have slipped into something extremely and overblown and over-the-top, Hazanavicius directs with a clear and straight-forward vision, and it really serves the film well. This is the stuff that wins Oscars.
Some people have said that The Artist will not be timeless like other silent films, and that its silent film format is more of a gimmick. While it's true that it probably won't be a timeless classic, I don't find that it is a gimmick. I actually admire it for being so ambitious in this day and age. People, as they have apparently been doing, may complain that there is (nearly) no dialogue throughout the film, and may be turned off by this. But if you look past that and embrace the film for what it is, you'll be drawn in within minutes, and you'll come out feeling alive. This is a film that deserves to be cherished by all ages, from grandparents who maybe used to watch these types of films when they were younger, right down to young kids. Embrace it. Cherish it. The Artist is a hymn.