Sat 1 Dec 2012
The Artist is a good and entertaining film, and it may deserve the handful of Oscar prizes that it received. I missed it in the theaters, then I bought the DVD when I was in Paris, and it’s only now that I got to see it. My conclusion is that it’s good, but slightly over-hyped and something is missing for it to be the great film some people talk about.
Let me start with what I liked most. It’s a film about cinema and specifically about Hollywood and it may be or it may be not surprising that it’s been written and directed by a Frenchman and the star is another great French actor. After all it’s the French who are the most respectful to the tradition of the great American cinema, and this is not something new, this lasts for more than half a century. While the American themselves criticize and change all the time the face of Hollywood (and it’s good that they do it), the French seem to be permanently fascinated by the legends of the American cinema and the silent movies is the one picked to be the subject of The Artist, or better said the death of the silent cinema and the fate of its stars. The story of George Valentine (Jean Dujardin), the star of silent cinema in 1927, who refuses to acknowledge the revolution of the ‘talkies’ in 1929 and finds himself rejected and abandoned by almost everybody in 1931 is well and simply written and filmed with elegance by director Michel Hazanavicius. Dujardin gets fine replicas from Berenice Bejo as the growing star of the new era and James Cromwell as the faithful driver of the falling star. The two and the cute dog, who would have deserved an Oscar for canine performance if there was one, never abandon the hero, they actually all love him and cause us to love him despite perceived character problem. Eventually even the shark-producer acted by John Goodman will give to George Valentine a second chance in life.
So yes – it’s a well written story, a respectful reverence to a crucial period in the evolution of cinema and its heroes, an interesting format which makes the story different. Why is it ‘good’ and not ‘great’? It is good because the film could not have been possible in a different formula – the silent film that describes the transition of the world of cinema from silent to talking movies. It is not great because the formula is too obvious in a few places (when the film less creates emotions and more tries to show how smart it is) and because the ending contains a ‘deus ex machina’ type of solution that goes in the contrary direction than the whole film. But maybe I am wrong. If more great silent films will follow I definitely will prove to be wrong. I would be happy to be wrong in this case.