“Hollywood don’t make them like they used to”.
Try telling that to Parisian director Michel Hazanavicius for he has crafted a love letter to the golden age of movies – Silent movies, that is. Not only is The Artist a black and white silent film, it features its biggest American actor in the form of John Goodman and the lead stars are two of France’s A-listers. If that isn’t ballsy, well then what is?
Prior to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, all the hype revolved around controversial director Lars Von Trier’s latest effort Melancholia and Terrence Malick’s much-talked about return to form in The Tree of Life. By the end of the event, however, The Artist was on everyone’s lips; no-one could stop talking about it. Jean Dujardin, who plays iconic matinee idol George Valentin, went on to scoop Best Actor for his role as an actor at the top of his game who is threatened by a young and shining starlet in the form of Bérénice Bejo.
Photographers frantically snap away, female fans screaming at the sight of the silent movie star at his latest premiere until a chance meeting between Valentin and Bejo’s Peppy Miller initiates an instant connection between the two. In the first instance Valentin see’s Miller’s fame-by-association admirable but it gradually becomes clear that the era of silent movies is out of fashion and Valentin is a washed up has-been. Set for her big break, the radiant dancer Peppy Miller is the new face of speaking-made feature films or “Talkies” as they are labelled and soon takes over the face of 1920’s and 1930’s cinema. Out of a job, a weary eyed and fading George Valentin has lost it all bar his loyal dog companion Uggie (who steals the show and surely a valid excuse for the Academy to introduce accolades for animal performances) who now have to sit on the sidelines while Miller rakes in all the fortune and recognition.
Speaking of recognition, The Artist continues to be the talk on the red carpet with six Golden Globe nominations ahead of Sunday’s ceremony including Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. It is a strong contender for February’s Academy Awards and for all the ingredients it is most certainly not to be underestimated. But how is all this possible for a silent (except for its climatic, uplifting finale), black and white film? The Artist boasts charming storytelling and sumptuous cinematography and is a real joy to feast the eyes on. The chemistry between Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo (who have worked alongside director Michel Hazanavicius previously on the French Austin Powers comedy, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies) brings a sense of nostalgia to what the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton brought to the screen back when they were both shining stars.
It will play beautifully to grandparents who queued up for Singin’ In The Rain over 50 years ago and for the younger audience, this is a rare opportunity to discover why silence was golden.