****Film: The Artist: Michel Hazanavicius (dir. & writer)
The French film that speaks Hollywood, silently
Michel Hazanavicius and Jean Dujardin (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio,) reunite for this exquisite film noir romance set in the studios of Hollywood in the late ‘20s. Dujardin plays the suavely egocentric George Valentin, much-heralded star of silent film who finds himself quite literally muted by the advent of ‘talkies’. Meanwhile, plucky, attractive Peppy Miller, once a chorus dancer in Valentin’s movies, is borne up into superstardom by the new medium. With a sweeping orchestral soundtrack, stylish appropriation of classic cinematography, framed, wryly sardonic dialogue, and glossy lip service to contemporary poster art, The Artist might fare as merely a fond pastiche of a bygone era. However to label it as such would be to render an immense disservice to a film which engages viewers with a subtle and self-contained love story. The refreshing simplicity of the romance in no way detracts from its sophistication. Moreover, while execution of the story frequently plays to the melodrama and physical humour of the medium and playfully explores early filmic convention (look out for the wonderfully swoony ‘dancing with a tuxedo’ scene), gimmickry is consistently avoided. With some very familiar faces in a largely American cast (John Goodman, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle etc.), you might be hard-pressed to realise this is in fact a French film, notwithstanding a certain delectable irreverence in an otherwise tender homage paid to this golden epoch of Hollywood film. The Artist missed out on the Palme D’Or to Terence Malick’s Tree of Life at Cannes this year, but Dujardin was deservedly awarded Best Actor.
The Artist will be released in the UK on 30th December 2011, and is currently showing in selected cinemas as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2011.