Silent films are a thing of the past no more. In the silent romantic drama The Artist, a major silent film actor discovers he's not so popular once talkies come along in the late 1920's, his era swept away by technical innovation and changing consumer tastes. Despite no dialogue, The Artist is one of the most unique, entertaining and moving films of the decade.
Written and directed by Frenchman Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist is a movie that has to be seen to believed. To say it's a great silent film is an understatement; to say it's great because it's a silent film sounds like something a critic would say as he turns his nose up at regular moviegoers ("It is sophisticated because it is different!"). But The Artist, despite its unique and seemingly off-putting gimmick, is surprisingly accessible. The average moviegoer will love this film.
The Artist is a feel-good, heartwarming and entertaining drama that remains true to the silent film genre while never taking itself too seriously. It doesn't simply pay homage to silent films - it is one, with textual cards used for the dialogue and expressive acting to carry the audience through the story - but Hazanavicius knows he's making the movie for modern audiences. The Artist is dramatic, and romantic, but it's also funny, all in ways that modern audiences understand and embrace.
It's strange to say a movie has great acting when the actors never speak and they, by design, over-act, but The Artist has great acting. Jean Dujardin carries the film with a spirited performance that lets the audience feel his character's joy, grief and everything in between. He looks and acts like a silent film actor, and yet he also exudes emotion in a very modern and believable way.
The same can be said for Argentinean Bérénice Bejo, who plays Peppy Miller. She's beautiful and sprightly to the degree that she's spellbinding when on screen, but she too lets the audience in at a deeper level. She and Dujardin have great chemistry with one another, too.
James Cromwell is good, as expected, in a supporting role.
As important as the acting is, though, Hazanavicius is the one who pulls off this marvelous feat. It would have been so easy to let The Artist devolve into self-satire, to make fun of itself or inject modern-looking elements into the story. Hazanavicius resists such temptations at every turn; The Artist is pure throughout, even on the rare occasion when he does let sound sneak into the picture. Make no mistake - the movie relies on a gimmick - but the gimmick is so fresh and reinforced by its story that it works flawlessly.
The Artist is a movie that draws the audience in to a degree that few films have this year, which is all the more remarkable considering that it does so through a format that is not only outdated, but one that most people will refuse to watch. It's funny and heartbreaking, romantic and sad. Most of all, The Artist is entertaining, and one of the year's best movies.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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