Tuesday, February 07, 2012

THE ARTIST - Tribute to the Silent Era

THE ARTIST (romantic comedy)
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, Beau Nelson, Ben Kurland, Jean Dujardin and Stuart Pankin
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius
Time: 100 mins
Rating: * * * * (out of 4)

Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo

PREAMBLE: After watching The Artist here in the US, I can only lament the fact that it is not going to be shown in Malaysia in time for the Oscar Awards. Up to now, there has been no release date for The Artist in Malaysia. That is too bad because this black-and-white 'silent' movie is the top contender for the Oscars - and watching it will give cinema-goers a proper idea of what is at stake in the Oscar race when they catch the Academy Presentation show.

However, Oscar or not, it is a landmark film for any movie fan.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Set in Hollywood of 1927, this silent film pastiche is about popular film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) and his beloved canine sidekick Jack (played by Uggy). When George meets charming ingénue Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), he instantly falls for her and helps her get her first big break in showbiz. However, he stops short of acting on their mutual attraction because of his marriage to the whining Doris (Penelope Ann Miller, pictured right).

With the arrival of sound, George's career takes a nose-dive as he regards the talkies as a fad. After being cast out by studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman), George puts all his money into a jungle adventure film, only for it to flop and for George to be wiped out financially by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Meanwhile, Peppy's career goes from strength to strength and soon she's Hollywood's top starlet.


Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo

HITS & MISSES: Shot in the classic 4:3 aspect ratio, The Artist offers a novelty factor and writer-director Michel Hazanavicius plays the nostalgia card boldly and unabashedly. The story is cliched and occasionally sappy but it is emotionally satisfying simply because it is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the silent era. George has a reason for not embracing the talkies but it is not revealed until the last 'reel'. Meanwhile, he appears to be consumed by pride when he says: "I'm the one people come to see. They never needed to hear me."

Hazanavicius derives a lot of fun playing around with his 'silent' film effects, especially in a dream sequence where George hears sound effects for the first time but still finds it impossible to speak. Later, his wife provides new meaning to the words, "We need to talk, George."

The cast look great in their 'silent' roles and French actor Dujardin is outstanding, flashing that million-dollar smile that evidently helps to win the hearts of his audience. It is no wonder that he won the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild awards, plus a host of many others, for this role. Bérénice Bejo, who's also Mrs Hazanavicius, is also a winner playing the vivacious and adorable Peppy who is likely to steal our hearts away.

Of course, the one star who really steals our hearts is Uggy the dog - a natural in any silent film.

THE LOWDOWN: Get the DVD. It is a must-see.


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