Directed by Michel Hazanavicius
With Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo
Oscars for Best Motion Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best DirectorBest Original Score, Best Costume Desgin 

It’s really a beautiful tale on Pride, Loyalty, Love and Commitment to a lost Art. And it’s all played out in a twist of fate, a role reversal, a rise to fame and a fall from grace, the end of an era, and an old adage about being careful how you treat those you pass on the way up, because you’ll meet them again on the way down. The Artist is a bit reminiscent of A Star is Born in that way, but much lighter, although luxuriously lined with good will, and good Art.

Albeit The Artist is still a very bold venture in this day and age of high technology as it dares to go so far back to the heyday of cinema, to the very beginnings of moving pictures. And director Michel Hazanavicius has included several scenes that are just beautiful in and of themselves, revealing a true love of art for Art’s sake. Look at this image, for example, of the starlet in love with the owner of the jacket… Pragmatically unnecessary, the shot is a work of art, subtle and subliminal.

The first thing beautiful is the black & white celluloid silent treatment… Just as in photography, black & white brings the viewer to perceive depth and texture that colour seems to overwhelm. A film like this is an even more singular — and courageous —phenomenon in a market embedded with loud, saturated hues.

Audiences adapt to soundlessness too, and become good at reading lips while waiting for the black screen to come up with dialogs set to George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Even those who hate subtitles are actually anxious to read the dialog frames! That’s what audiences did in 1927!

French actor Jean Dujardin is even more debonair, suave and sexy with the sound off. He offers a stellar performance here, by the way, as George Valentin, the proud, committed star of the silent silver screen era, a “real Artist” who would never, ever do a “Talkie.” And he has the cutest canine sidekick to substantiate his Art Nouveau Hollywood swagger (3 Jack Terriers “play” the canine character).

Newcomer actress Bérénice Bejo is ever so charming with her ingénue smile and Nathalie Wood eyes… But beyond the entertainment candy of her good looks, her character, Peppy Miller, is a determined starlet with a heart of gold, even AFTER fame and fortune become her. That’s a tender redeeming factor that saves the movie from the shallow waters it could have drifted into.

Apparently the characters were drawn to resemble real-life screen artists from that era, notably Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson. And it’s nice to see a would-be Cecil B. DeMille in John Goodman, who is, well, John Goodman. But it’s all good.

Not to be dismissed are supporting actors James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller as Valentin’s loyal chauffeur and estranged wife, both of whom also convey heartstring-tugging emotions, wordlessly.

As for other beauty fixes, Hazanavicius has invested much attention to the detail in wardrobe and set design, from the lamp fixtures, picture frames, newspaper headlines and type fonts, to the art deco in the stairwell and the authentic design of the gowns, suits and hats worn in the 1920’s. And what’s even more uncanny, for those who know Los Angeles, is recognizing not only some of the streets in Hollywood but also the historical buildings from that period that still exist today. For example, Mary Pickford’s house (56 Fremont Place, Mid-Wilshire) was used  as a shoot location, as was the Bradbury Building on South Broadway (stairwell pictured here), and the Ebell and Orpheum theaters. The lighting and framing is so well done that audiences have no problem at all placing the action at those familiar locations, just some 85 years back in time!

The Artist leaves a lingering tangy pleasure on neurons, like the taste of vintage wine or fine chocolate. It remains a gregariously ambitious wager, for its never-before-done silent picture format, but smart for its uplifting, quality embellishments that will win audiences over everywhere. Some may even fall in love, as did this writer…


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