Although “The Artist” contains few spoken words, the film speaks volumes about the evolution of the American motion picture industry.
Written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius, “The Artist” stars silent movie actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). When Valentin bumps into fan Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) at one of his film premieres, he introduces her to a career of dancing and acting in Hollywood.
In 1927, Valentin’s at the height of his fame, but as the silent film declines in popularity and a new invention called “talkies” emerge, silent film dinosaurs (such as Valentin) are becoming extinct; talking motion picture newcomers (like Miller) rise in fame.
Although viewers may wonder how the silent film medium would hold up in the 21st century, these worries are soothed after the first five minutes of the film — where audience members are introduced to the extremely talented and charismatic Dujardin.
With his dark hair, good looks, and winsome smile, Dujardin (a French actor) resembles American film icons such as Clark Gable, Cary Grant and Gene Kelly. Dujardin nostalgically reminds us of classics like “Singing’ in the Rain.”
He’s very expressive and his facial features and body language are like a flip book. From one scene to the next, he flits from happiness to fear and melancholy. Although exaggeration is essential to the silent film medium, Dujardin strikes a believable balance between conveying his feelings and over-exaggerating.
While it is ironic to depict the beginning of “talkies” through an old-fashioned, black-and-white silent movie, “The Artist” proves that this medium can still be an engaging format for storytelling. In one jarring sequence, Dujardin is trapped in a nightmare where he can’t talk, but he can hear the laughter, footsteps and barks all around him. This scene highlights Dujardin’s inner turmoil.
Hazanavicius’ picture would not be complete without the narration of French composer Ludovic Bource’s original score — which fills the silence with romantic waltzes, playful jazzy numbers, dramatic introductions and everything in between. The music — just like the movie — mirrors an earlier time — the tail-end of the roaring twenties and the beginning of a new era.
The movie’s format proves that sometimes artifacts from the past never get old.
“The Artist” was written and directed by Michael Hazanavicius.