THE ARTIST (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011)
French director Michel Hazanavicius has followed his two OSS 117 espionage parodies, Cairo, Nest of Spies and Lost in Rio, with another genre exercise, this time taking on silent film in the charming international hit The Artist. Reteaming Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo from Cairo, Nest of Spies, Hazanavicius tells the story of the end of silent cinema through the clever use of the genre’s own familiar conventions. Dujardin stars as George Valentin, a silent-film idol who believes that talking pictures will just be a passing fad. Bejo, who is married to Hazanavicius, plays Peppy Miller, a young, peppy Hollywood hopeful who embraces the arrival of the sound era, rising as fast as Valentin is falling. It’s a different take on the classic A Star Is Born theme, with plenty of inside jokes and cute references about the movies, although purposefully using clichés doesn’t excuse the film from often being too clichéd itself; many of the scenes are far too predictable, offering few genuine surprises as the plot unfolds. However, Hazanavicius and his crew nail the period both aurally and visually, with splendid costumes by Mark Bridges, production design by Laurence Bennett, set decoration by Robert Gould, cinematography by Guillaume Schiffman, and music by Ludovic Bource. Excellent support is supplied by James Cromwell as Valentin’s loyal valet, John Goodman as cigar-chomping producer Al Zimmer, and Uggie as Valentin’s ever-faithful dog, Jack. Nominated for ten Academy Awards, The Artist is a fabulously made though flawed and overrated film that is a charming celebration of the movies — and a great way to get people into theaters to experience the myriad pleasures of black-and-white silent cinema.