There is something undeniably special about a film like The Artist. I say this not only because it’s an ode to a type of film that is dead and buried, but it forces us to appreciate visual storytelling and the emotional masks an actor can wear. Suddenly, without the potency of dialogue, we have no choice but to focus our attention on what the actors are telling us with their facial contortions. Showing, not telling, becomes the standard for the film’s success. Yet, what is romantic about a silent film is that in the silence, we can gather a level of peace and let the rhythmic power of music wash over us. Considering how we’re constantly surrounded by noise, there’s a liberating power to The Artist that you just don’t get from films these days. During the birth of film, silence was a necessity. Now, it’s a luxury.
I won’t deny that adjusting to the film’s lack of dialogue and sound is jarring. I’d almost compare it to watching an authentic British film loaded with cockney accents. Once we adjust and move past the notion that dialogue is extinct, The Artist’s charm and humor wraps us up and doesn’t let go. Considering that the film limits itself to a few title cards here and there, it should come as no surprise that it rides a rather simplistic plot. As a matter of fact, the plot is practically spelled out in the trailer. Nonetheless, we are dropped into the life of silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin). Debonair, suave and handsome, Valentin is the target of paparazzo and women alike. One infatuated female is Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a beautiful siren whose face would be the basis for many works of art. Peppy and George cross paths at a film premiere. It’s here that Peppy inadvertently stumbles into George and the spotlight. This chance meeting ends up igniting a passion that will last through the years, but not without its repercussions. Peppy, with her mug finding its way to the front page of Variety, works her way up the Hollywood ladder until she begins to headline the very talkie films that mark the death of silence. As Peppy rises, George’s career falls like a rock.
Bitter and foolish, George attempts to resuscitate a dying breed of film, only to watch himself go down in flames with the silent era. His rise back to the top is inevitable and clearly choreographed, but that truly doesn’t matter. The level of energy and fun found in The Artist trumps the simplicity of its plot. Delivering much of the film’s entertainment and resonance are Dujardin and Bejo, who are absolutely delightful as romantic mimes. Dujardin’s irrevocable smile and physical presence are enough to disarm just about any viewer. Moreover, he has an uncanny ability to shift his face in microscopic ways that speak louder than the comedic ham he puts on display in the first act. These little facial ticks make his budding relationship with Peppy quietly authentic. As for Bejo, her beautiful glow is further supplanted by the gorgeous black and white cinematography of Guillame Schiffman. Her performance is effortless and endearing. Her smirk and innocence are enough to leave any man breathless. Together Dujardin and Bejo create an irresistible tandem that leaps off the screen and dances to the masterful score by Ludovic Bource. Bource’s score, outside of the larger than life performances by Dujardin and Bejo, is the driving force behind The Artist.
Featuring jazzy tunes that add pep in insane amounts, as well as swooning themes (this or that) that nearly rival Ennio Morricone’s love theme for Cinema Paradiso, Bource sonically captures the tears, the love and the joy that The Artist wants us to feel. The successful marriage between music and visuals is purely wondrous. The man behind this fusion is Michael Hazanavicius. One can easily see the affection Hazanavicius has for the silent era with the assortment of winks and jokes that are prevalent throughout the film. From overlong sentences being translated with one word screen cards to a cute dog getting the screen time of a major lead, Hazanavicius pumps The Artist with enough sweet discoveries that it becomes a candy coated confection we can’t wait to unwrap again. Infectious, whimsical and timeless, The Artist is a grand film that resurrects a treasure that time has passed by.