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7.25 out of 10
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8.75 out of 10
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8.25 out of 10

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Artist

The Booming of a Feather

Rated: PG-13 A disturbing image and a crude gesture.
Release Date: October 12, 2011
Runtime: 1 hr 40 min

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Writers: Michel Hazanavicius
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Crowwell

SYNOPSIS: In 1927 Hollywood, silent film star George Valentin worries that the advent of the 'talking pictures' will make him obsolete. Hanging onto stubborn pride, he does become a has-been, paving the way for fresh faces like up-and-comer Peppy Miller.

REVIEW: French writer/director/filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius makes an artistic splash with an independent film import originally released in Belgium and France. Nominated for Palme d'Or and winner for Best Actor (Jean Dujardin) at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, The Artist has seen limited, but expanding, screenings in America, especially since the 2011 Golden Globes recently announced the film with six nominations.

In 1927 Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin, OSS 117: Cairo: Nest of Spies) sits on top of the film world with a successful silent film career, starring in smash hits like 'The Russian Affair' and the upcoming 'The German Affair'. After the premier of 'The Russian Affair', 
Basking in and hogging the audiences' adoration, Valentin bumps into gushing onlooker and wannabe actress Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo, A Knight's Tale) who becomes an overnight tabloid sensation. Valentin struts onto the Kinograph studios production lot with the knowledge that he is on top, but when studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman, Red State) shows Valentin a screen test that includes a sound test with 'A Russian Affair' co-star Constance (Missy Pyle), Valentin laughs off the new technology as a destined-to-fail fad. Soon, though, Kinograph halts all production of silent films, including Valentin's, in favor of 'talking pictures' and a stable of young fresh faces with Peppy Miller as their main up-and-comer.

In a season of holiday favorites such as Jimmy Stewart's It's a Wonderful Life and A Miracle of 34th Street, it is refreshing to see another black and white film brought to screen with such care and craft. Although released domestically to limited theaters in October, Oscar and Golden Globes buzz has opened the film up to additional markets, allowing more of the movie-going masses access to it. Michel Hazanavicius brings to the silver screen such a nostalgic and inspired event that it is difficult to find fault in it.

Set in Hollywoodland in 1927, Dujardin's George Valentin is reminiscent of the silent film leading men greats, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. among them. Suave, debonair, and handsome, Valentin has it all. Fame, adoration and mass appeal all rest squarely on Valentin's square jaw and pencil thin moustache. New on the scene, Bérénice Bejo's Peppy Miller is a dame with a great pair of gams, music in her heart and a song in her steps. Her smile sets Valentin's heart aflutter. But as the demand for 'talking pictures' takes Al Zimmer and the Kinograph Studios in a new direction, Valentin's pride keeps him from adapting to the future of cinema while Peppy becomes the poster child for the first talkie for the studio. They say more with their facial impressions and body language than many professionals do with heaps of speaking parts. James Cromwell as Valentin's butler Clifton speaks volumes with his grim face as his stands by his employer without the mansion or a salary. And Valentin's dog Jack should be given special note for his riveting performance as a silent film actor's best friend.

Some movie-goers, though, will need to be reminded that the entire film has no audible dialogue, just like any silent film of the era. Be prepared for title cards between characters for dialogue. As Valentin becomes part of the dying breed of actors fluent in pantomime and muted gestures, Peggy, in a interview with a radio station promoting her new talkie film, accuses him and his kind of being only able to mug for the camera and that they need to make room for the young. We ironically learn this through her own muted gestures and title cards. Music does accompany the film and it is tremendous and pitch perfect. Subtle when suitable, powerful when needed, the music assists the film and the characters with emotion and elegance.

Dujardin and Bejo make a perfect pair, with or without sound. The story is simple but straightforward - funny, sad, and endearing. Hazanavicius even uses the title cards to great effect. The Artist is a classic romance and a statement of a man's pride and fear of change and the future. The film also speaks of the lost art of motion and the nuances of expression. I advise the cinephiles to get into motion to express a want to have this hidden gem of a film come to a theater near you.

WORTH: Matinee or DVD

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