moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks

If you think that a silent, black and white movie about a troubled 1920’s film star is about as appealing as a subtitled, angst-ridden, East-Europen art flick, think again. For The Artist is a warm, generous and funny exploration of the human condition and one of the best film you’ll see all year (a big call in February). For some, it’s the best film you’ll ever see. What's more it also has this year's Oscar winning performance from a dog. Sorry Snowy.

George Valentin (Dujardin) is a mega-star of silent cinema whose career hits the skids with the arrival of talkies. Sound, he says, is a fad and what’s more, the man can’t find his voice. But as his star crashes, that of young Peppy Miller (Bejo), a beauty who once danced in a Valentin movie, is on the rise and when she embraces the new, her star goes supernova. George hits rock bottom but Peppy is there to catch him.

The Artist is a relatively straight-forward warning about the dangers of pride hooked to a tale of the inevitability of true love. It's a beautiful valentine to silent films (shot in soft-focus 4:3 aspect ratio with title cards and era-appropriate credits - stunning) that, without a word, effortlessly entertains for its entire 100 minute runtime. This is partly due to impressive staging, technical achievement and outstanding direction by Hazanavicius. Not only does his terrific script perfectly capture the mood of the times, but drives past mere homage to deliver a fully realised story with all the emotional highs and lows of the best romantic, comedy drama.

However it's the phenomenal performance by the appealing Dujardin that brings this film home. His physical range is extraordinary as he silently conveys the roller coaster ride of stardom, and the chaos of his own personal life. Small wonder he has collected gongs from Cannes through the Globes to Oscar. Eye-catching support from John Goodman, James Cromwell and Uggie the dog simply make things better.

The Artist is the rarest of rare: a Hollywood gem and a true five star film.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


The Artist, set in Hollywood in 1927, is a beautiful, glittering gem of a film that looks at change in a bygone period, specifically at the time when the technology to record ambient sound on film didn’t exist, so movies were silent. Change is jarring and yet inevitable and the French director, Michel Hazanavicius (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies / OSS 117: Lost In Rio), takes us through the process in such a way that his vision resonates long after you have left the cinema.

With Oscar nominated performances for Best Actor and Best Support by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, starring as Hollywood actors George Valentin and Peppy Miller, we follow the shifting state of the pair’s careers and on-again, off-again relationship. Valentin is a hugely successful silent screen idol, looking the part with his dashing good looks and pencil thin moustache, but when he encounters the young dancer Miller in a crowd of fans, the artist’s fate is sealed… a magical moment indeed. As Valentin’s silent movie career heads for the skids (silent stars are being replaced by younger actors who are ready to be heard on screen in ‘talking’ pictures), Peppy’s career heads for the heights. It’s a story we’re all familiar with from films like Sunset Boulevard and A Star Is Born, although this one has a twist.

Mention should also go to others in the cast: John Goodman as producer Al Zimmer, the driving force behind the studio responsible for Valentin’s string of hits, a man who understands what an audience is after. He knows the business and it shows, literally - his face lights up when he sees the billboards of his productions that adorn the Hollywood cinemas; James Cromwell is superb as Valentin’s faithful chauffeur, Clifton; and, in no danger of being upstaged by these veterans, Valentin’s cuter than cute Jack Russell terrier, Uggie, demonstrates a few acting tricks of his own. My guess is that Uggie is destined for greater things than the TV ads which preceded this, his film debut.

The original music by Ludovic Bource is simply stunning and credit must also go to Guillaume Schiffman’s magnificent black and white cinematography and Gregory S Hooper’s art direction. In an era where we are used to everything extreme on screen, this film is totally rewarding on all levels because of its apparent simplicity. It is full of humour, tragedy and melodrama, but at no time does it lose its way. For anyone who has never seen a silent movie, this is a wonderful introduction to them. The Artist won a host of Oscars including Best Picture, and deservedly so: as beautifully as the duet performed in the film by Valentin and Miller.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks


Jean Dujardin
Bernice Bejo
John Goodman
James Cromwell

Michel Hazanavicius

Michel Hazanavicius

France / Belguim

PG / 100 minutes

February 2, 2012
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