ArtsBeatLA

Retro and charming — The Artist

Smarmy, charming Jean Dujardin perfectly embodies the persona of a charismatic silent movie star, playing George Valentin in writer-director Michel Hazanavicius’ audacious silent black and white movie The Artist. It’s a delightful throwback to the age of silent pictures, set in Hollywood circa 1927. Convinced of his enduring fame and popularity, our cocky hero Valentin scoffs at the arrival of a new-fangled invention that will catapult movies from silent to ‘talkies’. Unfortunately for him, his tough, cigar-chewing studio chief Zimmer, played by John Goodman, is well aware of the changing fancies of the fickle public. Zimmer and serves up a whole new smorgasbord of fresh-faced stars to go with his new sound-enhanced movies and that menu does not include Valentin.

Hazanavicius casts his adorable wife Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller, a perky young dancer whose star is rapidly on the rise. As her fortunes improve, Valentin’s plummet and he swiftly fades into oblivion. But she holds a torch for the dashing fellow – will they ever find true love?

Hazanavicius’ sweet movie is slight on storyline, never bothering to explain why Valentin’s wife is so bitter, why their marriage sours… It also never bothers to put any real impediments in the way of Valentin and Peppy’s longing romance.

Its strengths lie in its faithful replication of the best elements of those funny old silent movies, cramming his tale chock full of melodrama, wistful in-camera trompe l’oeil visual effects, slapstick, blisteringly fast dance and tap routines and a lovable Jack Russell terrier who performs tricks on command.

Best of all, Hazanavicius eschews the use of grating and clanging piano accompaniment, instead scoring his modern silent movie with jazz songs and even some recognizable fragments of scores from famous movies, such as Bernard Hermann’s masterful theme from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

 

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The Artist opens in limited release in L.A. cinemas later this month. Check your local listings.

 

 

 

 

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.

1 comment

  • Nice to see this review of this lovely film, which we just saw at the Cinema Arts Festival in Houston. But regarding the music, not all piano accompaniment for silent films has to be “banging and clanging.”

    As a practitioner of this craft, I am keenly sensitive to the moods and emotions of the films, and I and my colleagues at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, the world’s largest silent film festival, have never been accused of banging. Moreover, we run a master class for aspiring pianists who are interested in working seriously on the practice of accompanying silent films. Orchestral accompaniment is only one of many possibilities, and not always my first choice, though I have orchestrated a number of classic and new silent films.

    As for the use of other music in THE ARTIST, I found the VERTIGO quote extremely annoying and brought me out of the film and into an internal conversation, wondering why the composer had chosen to use such a recognizable clip with its own references.

    Chacun à son goût…

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