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Movie Review: The Artist

December 30, 2011

The Artist – An Alliance Films’ Release

http://theartistmovie.net

Release Date: December 9th, 2011 (limited)

Rated PG for mature themes

Running time: 100 minutes

Michel Hazanavicius (dir.)

Michel Hazanavicius (scenario and dialogue)

Ludovic Bource (music)

Jean Dujardin as George Valentin

Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller

John Goodman as Al Zimmer

James Cromwell as Clifton

Penelope Ann Miller as Doris

Missi Pyle as Constance

Beth Grant as Peppy’s Maid

Ed Lauter as The Butler

Bitsie Tulloch as Norma

Malcolm McDowell as The Butler

Ken Davitian as Pawnbroker

Basil Hoffman as Auctioneer

©Alliance Films.  All Rights Reserved.

George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) watches one of his films in The Artist.

Our reviews below:

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The Artist Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

Since it premiered this past May at Cannes, everyone has been talking about French director Michel Hazanavicius’ black and white silent film, The Artist.  Sometimes a film like this would fail to live up to such hype, but this isn’t the case here.  The story of a silent film star becoming painfully aware of his fading place in the world of the talkies, The Artist is a piece of moving, inspirational and ultimately unforgettable entertainment that deserves all of the attention starting to come its way.  The experience of seeing a silent movie in this day and age is nothing short of mesmerizing.  

The year is 1927 and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is one of the biggest silent stars of his generation, along with his beloved little dog.  But cinema is about to change forever with the invention of movies with sound, and the adventure star is starting to slip out of the public’s eye and into a deep depression.  Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is a young dancer set for a big break, with the perfect voice for the era of the talkies.  We watch as their stories and careers brilliantly connect.  The Artist looks at what it would have been like to be a silent film star living through this time, and does so by beautifully paying homage to black and white silent films in the process.

Those who have seen the French spy spoofs OSS 117 already know that Jean Dujardin is a gifted physical actor.  He gives his best performance to date as George Valentin, allowing pathos and believability to shine through the perfect smile and slick mustache.  Also excellent is Bérénice Bejo, who gives an immensely appealing performance that would have made her a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  But another member of the cast that deserves recognition is the little dog Uggie.  The adorable Jack Russell Terrier steals plenty of screen time and also plays a pivotal role during some of the most emotionally intense scenes.

The music by Ludovic Bource is nothing short of brilliant, effortlessly carrying both the dramatic and upbeat moments in the story.  The cinematography is also excellent, preserving the decidedly square aspect ratio of the time period.  With a screenplay that beautifully deals with themes of trying to find your place in an always changing world, The Artist is a masterpiece and one of the most unforgettable theatre experiences of the year.

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The Artist Review by Erin V.  

**** (out of 4)

It is rare that a film comes along that is so unique in its vision that you are struck by it long after leaving the theatre.  Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is one of those films – but the surprise is not at a (almost completely) silent film, but rather one released in 2011 that succeeds so well.

The story is simple.  The year is 1927, and Hollywood actor George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is famous with his films playing to full houses.  He runs into a young woman making her way up into the film business named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and the two’s lives become gradually intertwined.  But when the ‘talkies’ are invented, her career takes off, but his flounders and becomes practically nonexistent, spiralling him into despair.

What follows is an emotional drama as we see the changes to his world through his eyes.  In several turning point scenes, sound does come in, working impeccably well in its minimal use.  I don’t want to give away too much though – back when silent films were the norm, you knew very little beyond a released synopsis as to what the film you were about to see was about – the same experience should be kept here.

The sporadic use of title cards is brilliant, like the old silents allowing us to get key pieces of dialogue, although most of the time, we know what is happening on screen from the visuals and what we can lip read.  It is surprising for modern audiences just how much story and character development we get.  As the actors are actually saying things (their lips are moving and some words can be caught), the script would be interesting to read.  Although, in some ways, not knowing every line allows us to interpret, and focus more on the emotions of the characters in our own way.

This is a classic example of ‘show don’t tell.’  We pay attention to a multitude of details without even realizing it.  The film is very artistic, and intuitively, through our own projection, we get it.  After watching the film, you realize just how brilliantly the opening scene corresponds to not only the whole film, but in particular the closing scene.  There is not a wasted moment here, and seeing this film is an experience you won’t soon forget.  For me, this is one of the – if not the – best of the year.

I’m finding a great difficulty in trying to describe this film in words – and maybe by its very nature, we get it before we can explain exactly how much we do.  When I came out of the auditorium for The Artist I was jarred by just how loud the pop music blared in the lobby and the fluorescent lights and colours surrounded me – after being transported away to the 1920’s/30’s, it literally felt as though I’d been dragged back to the future, but in some ways deepened my appreciation for what I’d just seen.  Those who know a bit about cinematic history may have a greater understanding of where the characters in the film are coming from, and afterward I would suggest looking up a bit of background on how the invention of the ‘talkies’ affected those who found it hard to make the transition, or were not invited to.

While all of the actors, (including Uggie the dog, who already won the Palm Dog at Cannes), are pitch perfect in their roles, awards recognition should come Jean Dujardin’s way for his stunning (silent) performance here.  Also, the score by Ludovic Bource – which plays as a throwback to the greats of silent era films – is one of the best of the year, and as an integral storytelling piece here, deserves to be recognized as so.  This is a Best Picture caliber film, there’s no doubt about it.  It is not just silent as a gimmick, it is an honest film through and through, using the medium in the best way to tell its story.  There is no doubt about it, The Artist is an inspiring work of art.

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The Artist Review by Nicole

**** (out of 4)

The switch from silent films to talkies was one of the biggest changes in cinema history.  The Artist pays homage to the silent films of the 1920s, yet at the same time tells a story of how the switch to talkies put many actors out of work.  George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a well-loved actor.  Often starring with his dog (played brilliantly by the adorable Uggie), the pair are a favourite in silent cinema.  George even falls in love with fellow actor Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a pretty woman with a knack for dancing.  But his luck changes for the worse when talkies become the rage, and Peppy becomes the new favourite star.  The Artist captures the emotions of each of these characters beautifully.

Told entirely through music, camera work, and expert silent acting, The Artist is likely to win Best PictureIt is one of the year’s best films.  Uggie was deserving of his Palm Dog at Cannes, and his fellow human actors will likely score more wins throughout awards season.  Ludovic Bource’s score helps carry the film, as it is some of the movie’s only sound.  The Artist is an incredibly moving film that, like Hugo, is a love letter to silent film.

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The Artist Review by Maureen

**** (out of 4)

There’s a saying that “silence is golden” and in the case of Michel Hazanavicius’ charming black and white silent film The Artist, the silent sound is deserving of awards gold.

Popular French actor Jean Dujardin plays a silent film idol named George Valentin who, in 1927, is at the top of his career.  Audiences love him and the manager (John Goodman) of Kinograph studios where Valentin’s popular movies are produced can’t get enough of him.  Even Valentin’s cute little dog Uggie adores him.  When a female fan, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) lands in the media spotlight it launches her career first as an extra in Kinograph’s movies and then as a co-star with Valentin.  Soon, fans are coming out to see Peppy Miller rather than Valentin once the studio moves to talking pictures, a concept Valentin has no use for.

The rise of Peppy’s career and the fall of Valentin’s are shown beautifully without a single word being heard by the film audience.  In the tradition of old silent movies, printed words are flashed on the screen only when needed and the rest is mouthed by the actors with the audience relying on their acting ability  to carry the story.  The Artist is graced with an incredible cast of actors.  Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo give impeccable performances as the two leads.  They are surrounded by a strong supporting cast including John Goodman, and James Cromwell as Clifton the loyal chauffeur.  The unofficial star of The Artist is without question the adorable little dog Uggie, who manages to steal many a scene.

Credit for this beautifully entertaining movie also has to go to Ludovic Bource for his wonderful original score that carries the story through the sounds of music.  The Artist is also beautifully filmed with the attention to detail and perfectly framed shots making it a visual delight, exactly what you want from a silent film.

Anyone with an appreciation for old silent film will likely find The Artist to be a perfect homage to the genre.  This is a perfect film in every way.  What a wonderful change of pace from all the noise and sounds that surround us in and out of the theatre.  Currently in limited release, The Artist is worth seeking out in theatres and eventually on disc.

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The Artist Review by Tony

**** (out of 4)

Everyone should know by now that The Artist is a non-widescreen B/W film, like City Lights or Modern Times, essentially silent with a musical soundtrack. It opens at the 1927 premiere of the latest adventure featuring the silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his little dog. After accidentally crashing George’s party, the young aspiring performer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) becomes the “it girl” of the period, making a successful transition from silent to sound films. Meanwhile, George is not so lucky, risking everything on his belief that talkies won’t last.

Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius (French despite his Lithuanian surname) has captured the period perfectly, using historically accurate artifacts and Los Angeles locations, with a charming story that both typifies and mirrors the late twenties and early thirties on many levels. The fine supporting cast includes James Cromwell as the loyal chauffeur, John Goodman as the studio executive with the big cigar, and Penelope Ann Miller as the long-suffering wife. The musical score from Ludovic Bource is especially memorable, all the way from full-blown orchestral accompaniment in the opening scene to the final swing number.

I hope now to check out some of the other period work (sampled in internet clips) Hazanavicius has done with Dujardin and Bource, particularly the two OSS 117 spy spoof films (2006/9), where Dujardin’s character combines the charm of 007 (in one seductive scene boasting: “Dépêchons-nous; je n’ai que quelques heures”–Let’s hurry; I only have a few hours) with the bumbling ignorance of Clouseau or Agent 86 (featuring Hazanivicius spouse Bejo in the first film as a 99 counterpart).

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Consensus: A black and white silent film that beautifully pays homage to the rise of the talkies in Hollywood, director Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is a moving, inspirational and ultimately unforgettable film that features a wonderful musical score by Ludovic Bource and a brilliant leading performance from Jean Dujardin.  **** (Out of 4)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Stewart permalink
    December 30, 2011 3:44 am

    Fours across the board, whoo! Great to hear it guys! 😀

    Like

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