With 3-D movies becoming so ubiquitous, the magic of cinema is wearing off as more and more humdrum flicks are poured at us from every box office orifice. Previously, CGI perfection and action sequence bombasts became formulaic and jaw-achingly dull for the average cinema goer. Thankfully a wonderful piece of film making has emerged in the form of The Artist. This is modern cinematography stripped bare of all whistles and bells: no 3-D, no CGI, no colour, barely any spoken dialogue, not even filmed in wide-screen. This, far from holding back any enjoyment of the theatregoer’s experience, rekindles their long lost passion for cinema in its pure form. Indeed, the film is set in Hollywood(land) of the 1920s and 1930s, straddling the last major technological milestone in cinema since the digital revolution: the advent of talking pictures.
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Every player in The Artist is, necessarily in a film with almost no talking, visually arresting. Jean Dujardin cuts a suave dash as George Valentin, a huge silent star unwanted in a new era of vocal acting. With landscaped chin, lacquered hair and moustache clipped to an eyebrow pencil line, Dujardin’s face and physicality fascinates throughout the film’s 100 minutes. His acting is comic without being farcical; tragic without being hysterical. His co-star, budding blossom Peppy Miller, played by an engaging Bérénice Bejo, remains charming, demure and level-headed even when achieving the heights of talkie fame. She never forgets the role of Valentin in her success and watches, while trying to attenuate, his private demise as he witnesses her very public ascension to super-stardom. Bejo does this with an unbent sensitivity, her engaging mouth filling the screen with her smile or quivering with unfettered sadness at the man left behind.
The supporting actors, although less physical, all have faces full of depth and character. Even a flash appearance from Malcolm McDowell as a jobbing extra delivers a comic vignette full of facial subtlety and wrinkled brilliance.
The director, Michel Hazanavicius, cannons a well aimed, pared down shot straight to the emotional core, uncluttered with dialogue. The depth of the monochrome montage screams sophistication and the soundtrack swells and dips with the action on screen. Hazanavicius brilliantly portrays an enormous sense of fun and excitement from the start with clever editing and use of movement to compensate for the lack of Foley sound or speech, which is never a disadvantage in this film. This makes almost every moment edge-of-seat tense which does lose fervour in the middle, possibly in order for the audience to catch breath before being shot at again during the dramatic ending. The director himself has been quoted as saying that he has used the silent format not as an homage to bygone days but a storytelling tool. He does just that, making an amazingly refreshing new film and helping audiences of all ages to rediscover the raw and beautiful art of cinema at its purest.