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This film is best seen and not heard...
The Artist (DVD)
Member Name: SpiderJamb
The Artist (DVD)
Date: 28/05/12, updated on 28/05/12 (43 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent lead performances, Fun and unusual approach to telling a story
Disadvantages: Slow paced in the middle - could have done with being a bit shorter
The Artist's biggest selling point (and its biggest criticism in some circles) is the fact it is a silent movie. There were questions whether or not such a film could interest audiences in this current generation, which is ironic since the film's plot concerns that very question when popular silent-movie actor, George Valentin (played expertly by Jean Dujardin), finds his success threatened by the advent of 'talkie' films. Determined to stick to the voiceless medium which made his name, Valentin, funds his own silent feature which opens on the same day as the latest talkie, starring an extra on one of his earlier movies, whom he'd helped reach stardom.
The film chronicles the decline in silent movies with a sweet romantic sub-plot. So, as the audience watches a silent movie, they are reminded of the events that led to their demise. It's a very bittersweet concept. With hindsight, we can see the worth and great films that 'talkies' provided, but we grow attached to the cheerful and exuberant George, so knowing the inevitable failure of his attempts to keep silent movies going is even more heartbreaking.
Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) is a brilliantly matched female lead against Valentin and the two seem so perfect for each other that you find yourself shouting at the screen at the various near-misses and problems which keep them apart. It's this love story at the heart of the film that propels it and keeps it watchable without spoken words. The facial expressions between the two are slightly exaggerated, as it would need to be in order to communicate clearly on the screen, but the poignant moments between the two were still more effective than most rom-com pairings in recent years.
The other notable leading role belongs to an unusual actor - unusual in the sense that he has four legs and a tail. George's pet dog manages to get his own moment in the spotlight alongside his two human co-stars, with a rather well performed solo scene mid-way through the film. The dog-trainers managed to do well to get the dog to behave so obediently. The relationship between George and his dog is also very affecting, in that we immediately bond with these two friends and feel sad when they go through rough times.
One of the strengths of this film is its universal appeal, due to the lack of speech. People of any language can enjoy this film without losing anything in translation. The actors all manage to convey their emotions and motivations without having the speech cards come up (which only occasionally appear) and the story is delightfully simple and evocative, without confusing narrative clouding the way. However, the film does feel slightly padded-out in places, due to the simplistic nature of the tale and I did find myself thinking whether or not it could have been shortened by 10 mins or so.
Despite the lack of voices, there is not a lack of sound, and the ambient music is very evocative of classic black & white cinema of the time. Without words to draw emotion from the audience, the director must rely on his soundtrack and it pays off well, with the right sounds at the right moments, making the audience connect with the emotions that our lead characters feel without ever having to explain it through obstructive text on the screen.
This is a great film, which makes you nostalgic for that golden age of Hollywood, even though in my case, I wasn't even alive then! Things seem so much simpler and brighter and this film manages to capture that feeling perfectly. Don't be put off by the silent treatment to the story, as it really is as good as everyone says!
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Summary: This film manages to capture the feeling of an entire era without saying a word