Made through his lifelong adoration of the silent era, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist is imbued with classicism, wit, passion, love and abundant heart that makes it such a rare yet enjoyable and profound cinematic treat.
In 1927, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is an extremely popular actor, packing out picture houses and charming the socks off anyone who takes an interest. When the mysterious Peppy (Bérénice Bejo), who he stumbles upon at a crossroads in both their lives, rises to stardom, he begins to lose his way and spiral into despair.
What ensues is an emotional melodrama that pays reverence to the most adored silent films of the 1920’s and 30’s. Bathed in black and white, with only the simplest of editing techniques used, Hazanavicius is able to keep the focus aimed squarely on the body language and facial expressions of the stars. Title cards express the most necessary dialogue exchanges, but the stripped back technique and emotive musical accompaniments (Ludovic Bource is responsible for the score) allows the audience to make their own connection with the narrative and the characters’ personalities and relationships.
At the film’s heart, Dujardin delivers a tour de force performance as the sly and debonair George. Not only does he play the light side of George with an exquisite finesse, but he’s also more than capable of taking the character to the depths of despair and helplessness where necessary.
Bejo is the ideal companion to Dujardin. They share a natural charisma, and an ability to infuse their character with emotion without the use of dialogue, proving them to be the perfect duo. John Goodman and James Cromwell, too, are pitch perfect in their supporting roles. It’s Uggie, however, as George’s enigmatic dog, that stands out, deserving every inch of his overwhelming success.
The Artist is a very rare film. Not only does it stand out due to its inventiveness and ability to tell an affectionate story through on the most basic of means, but it’s also suffused with love, devotion and a true cinematic vision.