Saturday, January 28, 2012

"The Artist" (2011) - Movie Review

Sadly and quite embarrassingly, this reviewer’s first and only silent film seen is Buster Keaton’s “The General” ( I do not count the partially seen “Metropolis”). What is more sadder than that is the fact that I did not pen a review about it. Hence comes “The Artist” which is indeed the first (almost) silent film to get its review from this reviewer. Michel Hazanavicius’ film as “Hugo” goes back to the roots of the movie creation and pays homage. It also carries a heartening comedy with a lovely romantic drama.

To simply make a silent film would have been just an experimental pet project but to use that as a part of the film is what makes “The Artist” a better film. It goes true to that era as stardom has sprouted itself and in that web of fame and fortune is Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin. A thoroughly charming talent glowing in the warmth of the audience’s applause, appreciation and adoration. Jean Dujardin brings forth a smile that cannot be constricted in adjectives. The way his character delivers it encompasses everything about perfection that does not become cocky nor bombards with attitude. It is the most genuine, caring, proud and enjoyable expression the man sheds out that makes us not only believe in his celebrity status but also the unconditional likability towards his character.

Oh, I forgot to mention that George Valentin is the star in 1927 as he ploughs the streets of Hollywood and sweeps women off their feet. His power of stardom earns him to command his producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) to obey his calm orders. He is married. Though he seem to be in love with himself. Even his cajoling act towards his wife (Bitsie Telloch) is a performance and a proof to himself that he can pull stunts like that and get away. In that world comes the kind of beauty that daringly challenges Valentin’s King of smiles, of course lovingly.

Notice that I am careful on the intensity of any form of control these two lead characters have over others and each of them. That is how the film gets played wherein even anger is soothingly warm yet transpires its complete emotion towards its audience. This beauty I was talking about is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Bérénice is the petite, big eyed, short curly haired sweetness that makes you wonder where does she get this energy from. An accidental encounter with Valentin and a genuine dance audition lands her as an extra in the film Valentin is in. Their scenes that requires the kind of magical chemistry in love at first sight works effortlessly. The way they fall for each other can be horrifically screwed up in a rom-com upchuck but not here. If you have any doubt of true love, then well, you are rightful in your doubts but damn these actors make us believe in it.

“The Artist” despite its brilliance is the simplest happy sappy story as “Hugo” was. Yet it place close to the hearts of film lovers. It is made with love for those people who believe the medium is more than entertainment and the medium had an origin which carries the strength of facial expression than dialogue deliveries. In its infant form in the ever growing films is where Hazanavicius takes us and then puts a story. And he does not stop there, he goes ahead to take his central character to have an ideological difference in the way this industry was moving forward. Again he does not stop there but weaves the age old tale of untold and unexpressed love due to that difference. You think it is done? Nope, he then uses the element of silence and sparsely selected sound poured into this creative mix to put a commanding completion. Now that makes the dream project to life in the most successful manner.

To not mention George Valentin’s dog (Uggie) would be unfair. That smart, short, cute and ever loving creature generates the appreciation in tenderness and laughter in its audience by not only being there but performing immaculately. And to not mention James Cromwell’s Clifton would be unjust. These two characters puts forth that the film has more than the traditional love story but human connection amongst them and to their reliable friendly creatures as well.

As much as praise this great unique piece of work in this advanced time, “The Artist” might play in terms of logic and strength in storytelling sullen and little subdued for the people who have grown with the modern film of explanation and loudness. I think I am partly a victim of it. When I watch a classic film, especially a silent film, the mind has this information of the time it was made. As much as objectively you can separate it, there is a part that influence that experience. You either enjoy more than you would actually do if it was made today or not enjoy it but still carry a forgiveness for the limitation it carried in time and resource. “The Artist” does not have that and you treat it as a normal film but you are conflicted in its presentation. That plays tricks on your mind. You begin to get mixed feelings. But this is just a rambling of a person who has an obsessive sense of obligation in everything he feels, thinks and remotely relates to a film. I can promise you that this would open doors to the world of silence that is filled with expression and it will widen the windows of background score that decorates the kind of experience that has been long forgotten.

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