Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) enjoys his fame, he sparks with Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a young actress and dancer. George helps to give her a break with a reluctant Kinetone Studios boss, Al Zimmer (John Goodman). As his career dims with the arrival of talkies, her star rises.
Review by Louise Keller:
The Artist is a delectable and brilliantly devised film offering a magical carpet ride to an era gone by, when cinema was silent, its images black and white. Presented authentically as if it were made at the time, Michel Hazanavicius's romantic comedy symbolically explores the old alongside the new in the context of a story about a well established silent screen star whose star is falling and the up-and-coming new star of the talkies.
Exquisitely made with winning performances, we are reminded of the effectiveness of storytelling without words and the impact of music as a powerful emotional tool. It's easy to be captivated by this unique, universal piece de joie that above all makes us care for its characters as we journey through a maze of emotions.
In the opening scenes we meet the two key characters: George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo). Valentin is the self-assured screen idol, who loves the applause while Miller is an opportunistic star-struck would-be actress ready to take the chance, when offered. It is chance that brings Miller and Valentin together: a dropped notebook, a newspaper photo and hey presto, she is on the road to stardom. With the help of intertitles, Valentin tells Miller 'You need something the others don't have,' anointing her with a distinctive beauty spot above her lip. The way their love affair unfolds is something of beauty. He is smitten on the set as he watches her legs rehearsing their dance routine under a backdrop screen; she places her arm in his empty jacket sleeve and caresses herself in a fantasy embrace.
Dujardin and Bejo make a stunning couple: he with his Valentino-like movie-star looks and flashing smile, she with her enormous eyes, pretty face and immediate appeal. As Valentin's star begins its decline, he has only his adorable, obedient Jack Russell terrier as company and his faithful manservant and chauffeur (James Cromwell). Miller meanwhile is the new It Girl, with a bright future ahead.
Filled with delectable moments, there is much to enjoy and appreciate in this artistic breath of fresh air. For those in the know, there is a palette full of filmic references, too.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although the synopsis (or 25 word story pitch) may sound a trifle unoriginal (fading star v rising star), everything about The Artist is unique, from its beautiful black and white images as it pays tribute to the silent movies of the 1920s (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we recall), to the casting choices and the resolution.
Often funny, sometimes touching always engaging, The Artist is told from the point of view of a vain, proud romantic lead actor in silent Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). He can barely see his own image without a wink and a cheerio at himself and as we all know, pride comes before the fall.
The fall takes a bit of time coming, and still George doesn't see it, until it's too late. But before the talkies really take off, he literally bumps into the lovely Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) on a pavement filled with fans and paparazzi while promoting his latest film. She catches his eye, and when she auditions for a role as a dancing extra, George intervenes and gets her into the picture. Meanwhile, his wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) is having a tough time getting George to even talk to her, never mind anything else. Eventually she kicks him out.
But then as Peppy's film career explodes, George is forced to sell off his possessions. He hasn't paid his loyal chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell) in ages, and he is reduced to the pawn shop money for a drink.
Peppy wants to come to the rescue, but again, his pride (despite Clifton's warning) stands in his way, until his invitation for fate to step in is accepted.
French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has created a bravura film, somewhat surprising us after his two previous outings with very broad comedies, spoofing the 007 style spy thriller, with the OSS 117 films. Dujardin won the Best Actor award at Cannes 2011, and the film itself has won or was nominated for several more.
The film has a cleverly constructed tone that lingers between comedy and drama, playing with a melancholy mood, but this also accommodates pathos and light satire. It's both a creative success and a crowd pleasing movie, with the two stars delivering perfect Hollywood characterisations - Hollywood in its glorious early days, when the famous sign still reads Hollywoodland.
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ARTIST, THE (PG)
CAST: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, Beth Grant, Ed Lauter, Malcolm McDowell
PRODUCER: Thomas Langmann, Emmanuel Montamat
DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius
SCRIPT: Michel Hazanavicius
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guillaume Schiffman
EDITOR: Michel Hazanavicius, Anne-Sophie Bion
MUSIC: Ludovic Bourse
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laurence Bennett
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 2, 2012